Helen Macpherson Smith Trust

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Case Study: Sustainable Gardening Australia

ProjectEstablishing Communal Gardens in Bushfire Affected Communities

Amount$1,000,000 over three years.


ProgramOther Past Programs

This grant was approved under our previous grants policy
Rural and Regional Victoria Develop communal demonstration gardens, POD (Productive Organic and Diverse) neighbourhood gardening groups and workshops in bushfire- affected communities.
Building capacity Establish long-term sustainable gardens, maintained and harvested by their respective community groups.
Extending opportunity Provide a long-term communal asset that helps heal the psychological, social and environmental scars caused by devastating fires.
Collaboration and partnership Collaboration and partnerships with state and local government, the nursery and garden industry, landscape industry professionals, Rotary, Lion’s Club, Men’s Sheds and community.

Communal gardens sowing long-term benefits for bushfire communities.

Within 48 hours of Black Saturday 2009, the Trust agreed to set up a special $2 million fund to assist communities whose townships had been damaged or destroyed by devastating bushfires. One million dollars was granted to the bushfire related projects, and in 2010 $1,000,000 was also granted to Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA) which encourages and educates home and professional gardeners to adopt sustainable gardening practices. Communal garden projects were established by SGA, creating closer community ties in fire ravaged districts, allowing emotional and environmental healing and building precious new assets.

Image Harvesting at the Community Garden Toolangi Castella

“We became so close in the aftermath of the fires. We learnt each other’s names and we relied on each other. We needed to find some way that we could stay connected in the future and the community garden gave us this connection,” says Liz Duell, a survivor of the Jindivick bushfires.

The ‘social glue’ which binds communities together can be quickly torn apart by natural disasters. Feelings of connectedness and self-worth can disappear, and individuals may retreat into their own shattered worlds.

SGA was very aware of the intense difficulties faced by such wounded and fractured communities.

It proposed three options to meet the differing needs of communities and their ability to engage in the project at that time: communal demonstration gardens; productive, organic and diverse (POD) gardening groups; and a freely available instruction manual born of these projects.

The Trust supported the project because SGA’s powerful concept would not only reconnect people and give them pride in their achievements, but would provide a long-term, tangible community benefit.

Project aims

  • Establish four Communal Demonstration Gardens as perpetual and widely accessible community assets (a fifth was added in 2013)
  • Establish six Productive, Organic and Diverse (POD) Gardening Groups so communities can learn new skills, develop friendships and share sustainable gardening resources
  • Develop a free Communal Demonstration Garden instruction manual for Victorian groups wishing to set up similar projects
  • Promote positive psychological, social and environmental outcomes
  • Provide training to develop local skills and increase confidence in gardening activities
  • Encourage community engagement through gardening.

SGA’s Project Manager Elaine Shallue says the gardens’ lasting impact is that they pay tribute to each community’s resilience and their willingness to embrace change and turn adversity into triumph.

“Each of these communities has worked together to achieve an asset that reflects not only who they are but also the values they brought to the process. The philosophy of all of the gardens is that there cannot be community gardens without the community.”

Project outcomes

Four Communal Demonstration Gardens were established in Jindivick, Yinnar & District, Beechworth, and Toolangi & Castella. A fifth, in Yackandandah, was created in early 2013 when surplus funds were available. The gardens, some of which have become remarkable showcases attracting visitors as well as locals, are open to all members of the community as a hands-on learning resource and meeting place.

POD groups were set up in six other communities: Callignee, St Andrews, Yarra Glen, Dixons Creek and Clonbinane, with Yea & Glenburn joining in September 2013. These self-sustaining neighbourhood groups share knowledge, seeds, tools and tasks in each other’s gardens, working closely together to grow produce sustainably in their backyards.

The gardens’ processes and pitfalls have fed into the Communal Demonstration Garden instruction manual, freely available in hard copy and electronic format to all local governments and communities.

Strong management and governance frameworks have been created for all gardens. Gardening workshops, food swaps and preserving days are arranged, and links have been formed with other community activities such as farmers’ markets and garden open days.

The Jindivick garden has launched a garden sculpture acquisition prize through a partnership with Mawarra disability services in Warragul, supported by an additional $7000 funding from the Trust.

“Community is more than just the gardeners – it is the artists and philosophers, the young and the aged, the newcomers to town and the long term residents. Community gardens provide an opportunity for all to be welcomed and for the beauty and joy of a garden to be shared and enjoyed,” Ms Shallue says.





“We became so close in the aftermath of the fires. We learnt each other’s names and we relied on each other. We needed to find some way that we could stay connected in the future and the community garden gave us this connection,” says Liz Duell, a survivor of the Jindivick bushfires.