As part of their verge garden project, ACF Community Brisbane Northside held a Verge Gardens for Advocacy session in November.
We started with a recap from last month of all the users and uses of this space.
That mix of people brings lots of potential for clashes and disputes if handled badly.
On the other hand, it brings lots of opportunities for positive conversations to connect and build trust and relationships with people with diverse worldviews and priorities.
Trust and relationships are what make people more open to your message – in this case, an ACF group advocating for everyone to protect nature and biodiversity.
So every one of these (and maybe some we didn’t think of) is a potential opponent or potential ally.
A Place for Conversations
Then we asked the group to talk about the responses they’d had from some of these users, and their own responses to other people’s gardens.
Several shared that journey where their neighbours moved from suspicion, to curiosity, to acceptance and even excitement.
Conversations affect the direction people move along this journey so we need to listen carefully and work out how to ease them forward towards appreciation and excitement rather than drive them backwards from suspicion to hostility.
Finding the shared values that underlie behaviour is the key. My neat “hedge and lawn” neighbour and I both want our streetscape and community to look and feel well-cared for, even though we express those values in different ways.
Ignoring other people’s concerns about the use of this shared space, or the effect it has on them, can snowball into major disputes over this contested space. This builds distrust and they won’t see you as a person they would listen to.
Why Native Plants?
The way we garden and the plants we choose also affects many of those users and uses.
Low-growing, predominantly local native plants cater best for both people and habitat and biodiversity.
Pedestrians will appreciate you keeping the path clear and safe for all ages and abilities.
Local native plants have evolved to suit the soil and climate and are best for habitat and biodiversity.
An understory of native shrubs and groundcovers creates a good environment for council-planted street trees to thrive and help tackle urban heat.
No herbicides, no pesticides and avoiding high nutrient run-off is better for stormwater and our creeks.
Flowers are popular with pedestrians and are great conversation starters. Be prepared for people to pick them. (see article Why your verge should include flowers)
Slow gardening, gardening by hand and doing a bit at a time, gives people more time to go on that journey from curiosity to enthusiasm, with opportunities for lots of small conversations that address their concerns and answer their questions. We need that time to build trust and relationships.
Finally, we touched on leveraging the gardening to spread your message.
This provides a variety of examples and inspiration to other gardeners. It is on the open web so available to people who don’t use social media. You can share listings on social media, your own websites, and email.
It also gives you the option of saying why you have created a verge garden and what the garden means to you.
Sharing your reasons this way is an opportunity to introduce topics that you might be wary of face-to-face. It means that people who don’t agree can simply ignore what you’ve said without it threatening the relationship but it will give others the confidence to bring up those topics with you.
You can link out to other websites and participating groups can have their own category. So if you look at Jim’s, you can follow the link to his Bush Care group. And if you look at mine, you’ll find out that I’m an advocate for walking and active transport.
- Try the free online course Verge Garden Basics – Understanding the Space which will help you avoid the pitfalls and ensure that you keep your neighbours on-side and build positive conversations even with people who aren’t initially aligned.
- Check the events page for online and in-person events coming up, including a zoom version of the above session.