Melbourne Pollinator Corridor with Emma Cutting

by | July 20, 2022 | Permaculture Podcast

Welcome to this episode of Sense-Making in a Changing World.  I am delighted to be joined by the wonderful Emma Cutting, creator of The Heart Gardening Project and visionary Melbourne Pollinator Corridor.

The Heart Gardening Project is a community initiative that joyfully connects humans to nature through street gardening. Emma revels in connecting the dots between different people and fields of expertise through this project and connecting to the world through her street gardening, getting completely covered in dirt and creating positive change.

While she grew up on a farm in Northern NSW, Emma is now based in inner Melbourne and is a full-time mum, piano teacher, pianist, verge gardener, amateur plantswoman and amateur naturalist. She get’s called many things –  a community pollinator activist – The Bee Lady. She has recently recovered from a 12 year battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which she says has helped shape her to be the person she is today. I think she is an extraordinary doer, catalyst and connector.

Emma’s book, the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor Handbook can be found here – a fabulous resource for people wanting to design for pollinator habitat in urban areas.

The Melbourne Pollinator Corridor is an 8km community-driven wildlife corridor that will link 2 large green patches that run along the Birrarung (Yarra River), Westgate Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. It is an Australia-first project that she hopes will create a buzz, and be replicated across the country and beyond.

Emma is leading a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for this project. Already they have generated enough for the first hub of gardens. Let’s help her create all four hubs across the corridor. Here is the link to donate.

The Permaculture Education Institute would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the unceded lands from which we are broadcasting this show, the Gubbi Gubbi, and pay our deep respect to their elders past present and emerging. We’d also like to recognise their deep care for this land, the waters, and biodiversity for so many thousands of years.

Remember to subscribe so you get notification of these weekly podcast episodes, leave a lovely review (it helps the algorithms to find and share our little podcast).

This show is hosted by speaker, filmmaker, humanitarian, author, global teacher of permaculture teachers and Permayouth mentor, Morag Gamble of the Permaculture Education Institute.

This podcast is an initiative of the Permaculture Education Institute and our Permaculture Educators Program – teaching permaculture teachers on 6 continents.


Full Transcript Below

Morag:

Hello and welcome to this episode of Sense-making in a Changing World Podcast. My name is Morag Gamble and I’m delighted to be joined by the brilliant community innovator, an urban street guarding powerhouse, Emma Cutting, from inner Melbourne today. She’s the founder of The Heart Gardening Project and also the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor, an australian first initiative that stretches along the border around the Yarra River from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne to Westgate Park. This is a community driven wildlife corridor focusing on rewilding the streets to create habitat for native bees and other native pollinating insects. It’s been designed within the local council constraints with over 20 scientists and specialists and it’s about bringing nature into cities, treating nature like a close friend and giving love to the neglected nature strips in inner Melbourne for Sense-making in a Changing World Podcast, hosted by the Permaculture Education Institute. It’s all about teaching permaculture teachers and hosting a global permaculture graduate learning community, coincidentally called the permaculture hive. 

But before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the unseeded lands in which I’m speaking with you. I’m here on the land of the Gubbi Gubbi people and I pay my deep respect to their elders past, present and emerging. I’d also like to recognize their care for this land, the waters and the biodiversity for so many, many thousands of years. So come on in. I hope you enjoy this conversation with the wonderful Emma Cutting. Make sure to check out the show notes for links to her work, where to find her book, and also how to support the Crowdfunder for the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor. There’s also a copy of the transcript and more information about our work here at the Permaculture Education Institute and make sure to subscribe so you get notification of these weekly podcast episodes and I’d love for you to leave us a lovely five star review too. It really does help the bots find our new podcast and please feel free to go ahead and share this show with a friend. 

All right. It’s my pleasure now to welcome Emma cutting. 

Well today on the show, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Emma Cutting. Emma cutting is the founder and creator and protagonist of the Heart Gardening Project and also extending from that a new project that she’s working on called, the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor. Welcome Emma to the show today. 

Emma:

Hello, Morag! It is divine to be here. 

Morag:

Look, I’m so excited about this chance to speak with you about this project. Because as you know, I grew up in Melbourne and this work that you’re doing in Melbourne just makes my heart sing because it’s such an important part of rewilding and bringing life back into the heart of the city. So maybe before we talk about the pollinator project, possibly could we talk about the pollinator corridor? Can we talk a bit more about where all of this work started from? What is the core of the Heart Gardening Project? What is it and what made you start this work? It’s extraordinary work.

Emma:

I first started street gardening back in 2015 or 16 and that came out of the fact that we just didn’t have any land to garden. I could not put my hands into the soil. At that point, I just came out of 12 years of having chronic fatigue syndrome and I was really kind of entering back into society. So I built the first one and while I was doing that, I looked around and saw, this was in what’s called a tree pit or tree square so it’s a cut out into Asheville, and I looked around I could remember this moment where I looked up the road and see all these faces that were just nothing around these trays. What can we do here? What if we did something here? Surely there is a lot of potential, and then at this point – my background mainly is I’m a piano teacher. I’m a pianist. So I started looking at this from a honeybee perspective and going “Okay, so what about we create forage for honey bees?” Of course, that is very important, and I still believe that. But as I researched more and more and started creating more gardens up the road, I realized I learned about native bees and we’ve got native bees in Australia. It’s estimated to be about 2000 species and I didn’t know about this. How could I not have known about this? I grew up on a farm. So that kind of led me down, then I got native bee lessons. I started really reaching out to a lot of specialists and scientists and going, “Well, if I’m gonna do this, let’s do it as best of the best I possibly can.” And so I can have the best chance of success. That one thing led to another big site across the road, which felt like it wasn’t far, but it was a whole different realm. 

A lot of challenges came up there, but also a lot of incredible reactions from the community and positive reactions from the community, that blew me away. I went like, “Put onto something here, that this is a no brainer” and that’s where I think when this reaction of people wanting to connect around gardening in a public space where you’re doing something, but you can also have a chat. You’re doing something positive and you’re gonna have a chat, not only about the world but you can have a chat about the garden. It’s a safe place, so it’s a safe thing, a safe topic to talk about. I could see this connection and I actually learned through street gardening that I’m an extrovert. I didn’t know this about myself because I’d been sick for so many years and before that I was homeschooled. Although, that’s not a bad thing at all but it was different. I was playing piano, piano, piano. I went to the con, so the conservatory went to uni early. So it was just a different upbringing and playing the piano is pretty isolating, in general. So I just started learning this about myself. It was really amazing for me. So I suppose with one of the sites, one of the challenges came up when work had to stop. The other person down the road said, “Could you help me with my patch?” I went, “Hah! Yes, absolutely” and I think from that point, that was where that gardening project really started. Because I saw that it wasn’t enough putting all your eggs in one basket, it wasn’t enough. Because if something happened to that site, because I did everything right, that I did everything I could to have those gardens happen and they’re still there. But it was a long, long haul to cast your net wide. So if something happens to one, we find another garden somewhere else. We go and talk to the neighbor.

Morag:

So in terms of getting your garden started. It’s by people seeing it, noticing it when they’re in your street. Are you in South Melbourne? Is that what you said? So they’re seeing that. But how else have you been sharing the story about what you’re doing? Do you have a website and you’re going on to different kinds of media? And how has that helped to spark interest? Have you seen it kind of ripple out in different ways? Or is it mostly just that they see it, they feel it and then they think, “Yes, that’s what I want to do as well.”

Emma:

That’s a really good question. I would say, again, through the challenges from one of the gardens, I went,” Okay, well, it’s got to go online.” I had signs up. I’d signed around design and why I’m doing this, what are the choices around this? Why does this garden look the way it does? What were the challenges around this garden? Because every street garden, as any gardener would know, really any street garden, any site, it can be a meter away from another site and it’s totally different. So having those signs, it was really working with people.So I was like, “Okay, I’ve got to put it online.” So I spent three weeks channeling. I channeled a lot of this frustration into positive action and I started a website and I learned how to build a website and so that happened. I think the ripple effects from that have been, well you don’t kind of know the ripple effects until you talk to someone. Someone approached me that day and said they’d really like to volunteer and they said, “I’m from the University of Tasmania and we did an assignment on you.” and I was like, “Really? That’s great! Can I see? I’d love to see. They said, “It’s not that good.” and I said, “Okay, I just love to see it. That’s amazing!” So you hear that but I admit I’ve never been a social media person. But my husband said, “You must do Instagram. You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this.” I love Instagram. So it’s kind of a journal for me, actually. I go back a lot and go, “I had that thought. What was that thinking that I had that day? Or what was that word that I made up that day?” so Instagram for me has been a lovely experience.

Morag:

And that’s the right way of using them. I think that’s fantastic. Like as a journal, you can go back to and look at the evolution of the projects and I think that’s brilliant. That’s a fantastic way of using it. 

Emma:

Well, it’s worked for me and other social media platforms have not worked for me, as far as mental health goes, and this one does. So I think the ripple effects I can see a lot clearer I think within stuff and I’ve been able to reach out. Oh and actually to people like you Morag! It just feels like you can kind of get to know someone a little bit. It’s a safe space for me. So there’s been trolls on there and everything but it’s still a safe, safe place.

Morag:

So tell me then, from the Heart Gardening Project. You’re moving into this new space and it’s kind of obviously bringing forth all the things that you’ve been talking about since the beginning. But the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor, this is kind of expanding quite significantly from the square in the Asheville in front of your place. What is the Melbourne Pollinator Project and how did it come about?

Emma:

So far, the Heart Gardening Project has helped to create over 70 street gardens and we’ve planted over 6000 plants which, to some, might not sound a lot but when you’re looking at all these little patches in a very urban environment, very sealed environment, it does add up to a lot of different gardens and we’ve given a lot of pollinator loving plants away as well – over 600 – over the last couple of years. And I think through all the conversations, which must be in the thousands now, around from local but also around Australia and I’ve consulted with over 30 scientists and specialists. All of that experience and that knowledge has gone into the design and the setup and now the creation of the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor, which is really exciting actually. It’s an eight kilometer, or will be, when it’s finished. It will be an eight kilometer wildlife corridor for native bees and other native pollinating insects and it’s growing. It’s community led and maintained and it will be linking to really large green patches along the barrel, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, and Westgate Park. And this is what we’re aiming for is 200 Gardens, I think 1000 indigenous plants in the ground and we’re looking at doing all this in the next couple of years. The big thing is this will be done, it can be done. Without funding it can be done slowly, slowly, slowly. Because street gardening begets street gardening, so it will happen. 

However, we want this to really happen faster because it needs to happen faster. So what we’re trying to do – this is an Australian first initiative – so we’re really trying to prove out this concept little by little bit. So micro communities – it might seem like a really large space but actually, if you take it, when we’re looking at micro communities and building up, I’ve called it a hub. So large gardens with some smaller gardens around it and then we’re still deepening and strengthening and building that community, not only of humans, but also of plants and animals. We strengthen that community then we do another one. Then we do another one. And that all comes from, what I’ve noticed, works in the big gardens that we’ve already done so far and then linking those up.

Morag:

Wow! I was looking at the maps because you’ve created a beautiful book explaining what this concept is and how to do it  and all this background knowledge. It’s a brilliant book. I think it’s a guide that everyone in Melbourne really needs to have in their hands. Imagine if that kind of myceliated much, much further across the whole of Melbourne. Eight kilometers is just the beginning, I can imagine. But what I wanted to ask you, though, was about street gardens. Are you also looking at trying to encourage people to put it in their backyards? Or is it in schools or workplaces? How are you negotiating public space gardening? What response have you heard from  local authorities in order to support this kind of work? How are you going with that?

Emma:

I think there were about three questions.They’re all such good questions as well. The first one, you were talking about different spaces and there are so many different types of public spaces. And of course, we’re looking at private as well. We’re looking at a combination here. The big thing, I suppose, is looking at the public spaces that are barren, that are your niche strips, obviously a goldmine of positive change waiting to happen. So that’s been one of the huge things, but huge pieces of land but there are so many others. There’s public land that is not managed by counsel that is managed by other authorities and we’ve worked with the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, for instance, and with this kind of private public land as well. So we’ve built a credit card on a car park and then we’ve taken nature strips and we’ve taken six houses and put that all together. It’s been a real journey if we’re talking about counsel, for starters, it’s been a real journey. And if I was to look outside of me and look at the situation, I’d say that. “No, it’s been very challenging and I’ve led three campaigns around gardening on nature strips,and one is still ongoing. Interestingly, I think the council has helped me with these challenges and I think they’ve helped a lot with the design of the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor. So my husband’s a designer, he says, “Constraints are what designers love. They thrive on constraints. Well I’m going to thrive on the constraints.” And so you get these constraints and you work around them or with them and or within them, and that’s the thing. So the MPC has been designed within local council constraints. So whether they ban street gardening or not, it doesn’t matter. The MPC will go ahead because one of the big things about it is it will flow. I should back it up and say, one of the quotes I’ve based a lot of my thinking on is a Bruce Lee quote which is, “Be water my friend” and so you flow around your obstacle, you flow within the obstacle, you become what you need it to be. I think about that quote probably daily.

Morag:

I think that’s such a beautiful way of expressing it because I know a lot of people who are either doing verge gardening, street gardening, or community gardening are often coming up against these things and I think that’s really great advice. It’s something too that I think, when we were starting on the Street City Farm in Brisbane over 25 years ago that it was the same approach. I think that got us through and enabled us to kind of gradually open up doors and possibilities and to where it is now. And I think it’s a fabulous way to help you to stay in that generative space. Otherwise you can end up throwing your hands up in the air and just think, “Oh, no! This is all too hard.” I think that’s fantastic.

Emma:

Sorry, I should actually say as well, though, what I also did was I actually put counsel aside. I tried really, really, really hard for many years with counsel. Then I went, “Okay, let’s see.” and as soon as I did that, though, all these doors opened up and suddenly we’ve got amazing partners that want this to happen. We’ve got the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria as a partner, we’ve got [inaudible], and we’ve got these people that want this to happen, that see the value in this. Not only I think for plants or for wildlife, but for humans as well.

Morag:

That’s a very, very clever approach. Those people who have a bigger, broader picture and it’s a more regional approach or a more global perspective on what’s going on in terms of climate change or ecosystems and where they play a part. What that does is when you get players like that involved, it lifts everyone and it kind of invites other people to come and play or draws people along to come and play. It’s like, “Oh, well, why aren’t you getting involved in this? This is where we’re playing now. Come on, catch up.”

Emma:

That’s been the thing around my thinking about street gardening and what street gardening is. I’ve done it enough now to see how easily scalable that idea is, which is to do as it’s different to guerilla gardening. For me, guerilla gardening is illegal. There’s definitely a place for it and there are definitely blurry lines between strict gardening and guerilla gardening. However, for me, street garden is doing as much as possible within the guidelines and then doing as much as you possibly can to fill all the spaces with whatever you can and then creating that positive pressure, that groundswell. The more gardens we created, the more people would see, and had no choice but to see, what could be done with these spaces and, of course, everyone reacts or engages to these gardens in their own way, in their own time – which is exactly what we want – and this is where that street gardening begets street gardening. It will happen, it does happen. The ripple effects are incredible. But then you’ll have people [inaudible] right now. 

Absolutely. Great, awesome. Then you’ll get people that go, “I want to help you do the garden” and then they’ll watch and then they’ll go and try it. Although, I just want to stop for a chat, but I definitely think that if we just were the community wanting to create change, I don’t think that’s enough. Which is where all the scientists, specialists, and the organizations come in at different angles to create that pressure and , as you said I love that, to give a lift. I really liked that. That’s a lovely image for me to be able to keep going.

Morag:

I think it’s absolutely fantastic. What I really liked about how you have framed this project is, as you talked about, it’s community led. It’s community designed, there’s these citizen design aspects to it and that you were just saying about it just being a local community project is not enough. The fact that you’ve created a kind of a meta story. This context holds the imagination of what is possible for the future and that it’s a type of positive what we call, through the permaculture world is and particularly with the Permayouth that came out of there actually, the practice of activism. The positive practical activism and it’s like, what are we doing this for? What is the bigger picture of this? And you can see, I think, something around being a pollinator corridor about it being another species, about protecting, and creating, and rewilding this space is for the more than human world in an urban area. I think this holds something so precious in terms of how we can imagine a different future for urban environments because, like you said, they’re so covered over that we’ve got these little pocket parks, but then in between there’s not that much going on and so I think this idea of deeply engaging people in connecting with plays, but not just connecting for themselves, it’s connecting beyond. It feels really vital and in that vitality, that vitalizing kind of way. So can you speak a little bit more about how you are weaving in the citizen design? Or that whole becoming a citizen in this project? How does that all work for you?

Emma:

Well, this is something we are absolutely working on right now. We’re working on one of the things that the gardening project wants to do and this is thanks to the council as well and all those challenges is that I’ve actually also gone, “Okay, we’re doing this grassroots. Absolutely.” But I think we should also look from top down and so that’s external to the Heart Gardening Project, but internally to the Heart Gardening Project, we’ve actually been looking at the same thing. How do we grow from the bottom up, but we actually need to set up our governance really, really well. I am, I must admit that I’ve been working on this for three years in my own time, over 60 hours a week easily and this is what drove me in that moment, outside our streets, like this needs to happen, it has to happen, it can happen. That determination, I feel again now where we’re really at a point where we’re just looking to scale and I can’t mess up, I can’t mess it up. So I really feel that sense of intense responsibility to do the right thing by this community. But also to make sure that partners and sponsors and donors, but also that we can prove out this concept. I don’t even know if I answered your question, actually.

Morag:

Oh, no, that’s absolutely beautiful. I wonder where that deep spark or what keeps you going with that? Apart from feeling responsible for it and like starting this and putting energy. What fuels your flame? You’ve written some beautiful quotes from people like Robin Wall Kimmerer in your book and some of the things from David Attenborough as well about rewilding the world and restoring. Or is it something just personal? More about you having a young child and the future or is it climate? Like, what are the things that kind of feed into your motivation for this? Because it’s a lot of effort that you’re putting into this. You’re putting your heart and soul into making this happen. I mean, it’s an extraordinary thing that you’re doing and I just think it’s absolutely incredible and I’m always curious to know what fuels people’s flame. I feel like this fire burning inside me all the time and that just keeps me going and I’m always curious to know what fuels other people’s flames

Emma:

You’ve mentioned a lot of them already. But I think what I want to say is that there’s a lot that has kind of come together at the same time. My daughter would have to be near the top. I grew up on a farm, a beautiful farm in northern New South Wales and I think that the farm itself was a friend to me, it was a place to escape to and I loved just watching small things, taking time to watch the answer. My mom tells a story about me, they couldn’t find me and I was sitting there waiting for the  [inaudible] to lay an egg because I wanted to see it and I’d been waiting obviously for a while and I was missing. But these were the things I wanted my daughter to have, we can’t have  [inaudible] we can’t do that in our place, in our rental. But I wanted her to have nature and this is the way she’s been able to have nature in her life. I see her talking about native bees and I see her planting the plants and wanting to help and wanting to water and help us out in the laneway. Street gardening is a tough one with little ease, but we’ve got a laneway and we’ve been able to do that and that has been so powerful for me and I know also for her. She wrote the words the Heart Gardening Project the other day with the logo and the heart. That’s really amazing and that’s what fuels me. Obviously, there’s a big thing, I have mentioned it before, channeling frustration just through either the challenges from counsel or from whatever report has come out recently or when I might hear David Attenborough speak. “We live our lives in the shadow of a disaster of our own making.” I think about that one a lot of living a comfortable life, that’s the thing. So it’s actually living a comfortable life. So it’s actually being uncomfortable and being able to sit in that uncomfortableness and try to live a bit uncomfortably in order to create change, positive change. The other thing as well, because I’m a teacher, I’ve actually found that I’ve been doing this – I talked about my daughter – but then I realized that I’ve been doing this for my students as well and I look at the next generation, I look at this young generation, I look at the amount of mental health problems and the the huge issues that they are currently facing and how go I’ve got to do more. I have to do more. How can I do more for these beautiful people that are intelligent and caring and trying so hard and just so honored coming out with just amazing wisdom. How can I help them more? But coming out of CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) was full and that was the personal thing for me.

Morag:

Can I ask how one comes out of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Emma:

Well, I need to accept it first, it took me a while to do that. And then I needed to accept it in a way that I didn’t live with it, but I worked with how I could move out of it. I think when I got to the point of thinking the word for me it worked glacially. So Glacia moves slowly and is incredibly powerful and if you think about your body like a system, you can’t just change one thing and expect everything else to fall into place. I must admit that Western medicine did not work at that point, especially – that’s a while ago, there’s a lot that’s been learned about CFS since – but Chinese medicine really helped because it looked at the whole body. I also had to learn patience, which I’m still learning. But I really had to be patient. I had to have a good team, not one thing was going to help. Which, interestingly, as I’m saying this is so interesting, it’s exactly the same kind of path I’m taking with the MPC. For angles, you want the team around you with different expertise. These kinds of talks are so incredible, because they are a reflection. So thanks Morag. Thank you so much. As I’m getting, for instance, I’ve been inside for 10 days. So actually, again, although really I’m just dying to get up and do some gardening. And it’s actually also a good time to reflect. I think of these parallels and how I teach as well, I don’t have one method. I look at the person in front of me and we go, “What can we formulate for them?” and also the fact that education is what people are best engaged with when they don’t know that they’re learning.

Morag:

I wanted to ask you about your experiences. You’ve mentioned homeschooling a few times and I’ve been on my own journey with homeschooling my children as well  and I actually have one that’s in school at the moment when there’s our school and it’s been all over the giant and I keep following their lead and I wonder if I wasn’t homeschooled myself. I went through their local primary school, I went to the local high school and I went to the local university. That was my schooling. There was no question about that, it was just kind of what I did. So for you, having come through that homeschooling journey, as I’m listening to you saying, “Well, I just went and spoke to all them. The leading scientist and I connected this.” It sounds like there’s a homeschooler thinking like the system’s thinking about and not being stuck in a level like, well, this is me, and I can’t talk to that group. It’s like, where do I need to go? Who do we need to talk to? What’s the bigger picture here and just brought during that and I wonder whether that’s just you? Or is that part of this kind of thinking that happens when you have the freedom to explore ideas so deeply when, as in you do when you homeschool?

Emma:

There was a lot of trauma in our family that I’m working through and they’re not getting produced interestingly helping me work through. But I will say one of the good things about my parents was that if society said this is how you do it, they didn’t necessarily go with that. I think that there are good things and not so good things about that. However, I think it definitely instilled in me. I think over time, though, as I’ve grown up, there’s been a really positive thing in my life where people have told me, “This is how you teach Kenan?” No, I don’t believe that or you should do what we say? Like, no. I respectfully disagree. I’m going to go and find out why and back myself up on that and I think that’s been a really big thing. I think homeschooling was one of those things we did start off in primary school. I was bullied a lot and it wasn’t a great time for me, but coming out we were able to do piano. Gosh, there’s a lot of time wasted in schools and it’s been a really great thing for my teachings, my accompanying, for my piano playing. As far as being a teacher, I can actually present students with an alternative way of looking at things often and it’s been interesting. So that is something I have started to unravel myself. I’m sorry, it probably wasn’t that clear. Just because it’s connected to a whole lot of trauma as well. But I think the good things have come out of that and always, always good things can come out of it always. 

Morag:

We’re getting towards the end of our conversation and I got so many things that I wanted to ask you. So two key things? Well, three, actually. One is, what are some of the key tips for people wanting to start it? What are the things that people should be looking for in terms of space to create a garden? Like just some practical tips. Your book is full of these beautiful practical tips about creating habitat, or space or chemicals. What are some of the key five key tips for people that they should be looking for in finding a space or creating a garden? What do you think they would be in? And also, how do they get access to your book? That would be the second part of that question.

Emma:

Okay, so if we’re talking street gardening. For me, street gardening is generally looking at the space outside of your home. It can be other sites, but they do present more challenges, possibly, and you need to be able to work no more with the community. So as far as nature strips go, it’s pretty much the only public land where residents, pretty much across the board in Australia, are expected to do maintenance, as well as council. So this is where your nature strip is, it’s a great place to start. When you walk outside of the land that you’re on, it does change a lot of things. So I think one of the biggest things to know when you start outside of your immediate home, is that it’s not your space, it’s not your garden, it’s everyone’s garden. If you can think about it like that, you’re going to be okay. Because it’s actually less about the gardening skills that you have and it’s more about the mindset. So for me, having that determined and generous, but community centered mindset, is absolutely key. Then you give gardening a go, so that for one thing. Then I’d say, there are many challenges when you’re working with the community and this is always a great one. It’s that dog poo. Holy moly, there’s a lot of stuff around dog poo and a lot of people get really, really annoyed about this. My big thing is, and it’s kind of a metaphor for street gardening as well, is that pick it up and move on. Try really hard not to get sucked into that or putting up signs and saying “Leave us alone.” It just doesn’t work because those people are not necessarily going to stop. They’re probably going to keep going.

Morag:

Kind of take three for the C campaign. Like, you see it, just pick it up because it’s gonna make a difference. So you just do it. Take three for the beads.

Emma:

Yes, exactly and I think the other thing is, again, focus on the awesome. Because there’s so much amazing stuff that happens in tiny things. It can be a smile from a neighbor that you haven’t had for 10 years or it can be someone leaving you a card, I don’t think it’s a tiny thing at all actually, but someone leaving you a card in your letterbox. Someone going, “Can I help you?” Someone stopping to say hello. Someone might have their dog, their dog might be used to going to the toilet on the night strip and have the garden and they go, “We’ll take them elsewhere.” These are all small things, but this is the ripple effects of you walking outside and putting care into a strip outside. So this is what care is if you do it with that caring attitude, you’re going to be great. As far as the site itself will look, those are really important ones for me, but in urban environments, the Sun is a really big issue and I’m really quite new to this. So it took me a while to realize something, very obvious, around different seasons getting different amounts of sun. And of course, when you’re looking at buildings, that changes again. So you’re looking at your sun immersion is a good thing. It’s not just site awareness, not looking at the site, it’s being in site and looking out spending time in the site. Because these pieces of land get walked by all the time, but to stop and stand and look. “Now okay, we’ve got a tree. Okay, what’s in the tree? How big is the tree? Where are the roots of the tree that you can see? Does water come through the tree? What is actually on the ground here? Is it compacted? Or is it clay? Someone’s put cement there. Okay, so that’s an interesting one. And you can start going what are the plants that are there now? Is it a lawn? Is it Cape weed? What have you got?” And I think then if you also go, “What nature is here, apart from the plant? So what foreigner is here?” And you’re looking at that. 

Morag:

I think that’s where you start getting a few attention. Slowing down or paying attention. What kind of advice would you give to people who are wanting to get involved? Say they’re in an apartment building or have you thought about what you do in the pollinator corridor? With people who have only got balconies or rooftops? Can they participate in it? What do bee experts say about layers in the city? Vertical spaces.

Emma:

So interesting. Well, as far as native bee research, there’s not a whole lot. It’s really starting to happen now, it kind of started happening around the same time I started street gardening, but it was there before of course, but you’re really started amping up. So as far as vertical spaces, there’s not a whole lot of research. There’s so much research that can be done, and will be done, in the MPC. So we’re looking at biodiversity reports, but we also want to look at, for instance, how bees travel in an urban environment. How far do they go up? Does it depend on the size of the bay for instance? Native bee experts have their view and they’ve kind of said to me, “Look, I reckon second storey, rooftop gardens, second storey are probably doable.” But we’re looking at that definitely, on top of houses in residential houses would be amazing. But there’s so much. How do they cross roads? Do they cross roads? How far and how close to roads do they forage? There’s a lot that actually isn’t known and this, hopefully, as we roll this out, your genetic testing as well to see how far they are going. So there’s been some research done in both green patches. There’s so little, there’s nothing in between. So it’s good to see how they go. Does it happen? Does it? How does it happen? When does it happen? What plants do we need? We’ve got a plant list, it’s in the book, and that was created with wonderful specialists from Botanic Gardens, Neville Walsh, and many others. This is just a starting list. Of course, your local research says that indigenous plants are best for indigenous foreigners. So we’re doing indigenous focused gardens and then we start with the best possible start, and then we’ll tweak from there. 

Morag:

Yeah, fantastic. So at the moment, you’ve got a crowdfunding campaign happening to support the launch of this project? So can you just tell us a bit about what that is and how can people jump on and find out more about that? And what is it that you need support for in doing this?

Emma:

Absolutely. Well, we launched the crowdfund a couple of weeks ago. We’re aiming big Morag. We believe that the community should aim big and we’re going for $90,000 and that allows us to create 28 gardens of the 200. But it’s not just the creation of the gardens that we want to do. It’s also the maintenance and that’s such a huge thing because, of course, we can plant the plants. But if they don’t flower, that’s not good for the bees, or any of the other critters that are out that we want to attract. So we want to be able to have two years of maintenance and maintenance materials. We want biodiversity reports, First Nations consultations, so the more knowledge and the more awareness, the more connection we have to this land, the more power this project has to create positive change and we’re looking at creating four hubs of 22 and a half $1,000 each, and we’re almost able to do one. It’s so fantastic. I think we’re almost 21,000. It’s amazing.

Morag:

Congratulations, that’s so fantastic. How long is the campaign going for? How long have people got to donate into this?

Emma:

We’ve got until August 12. I should also say that although, obviously, we need donations of every size, every donation goes into a drawer for some really cool prizes. Actually, I’ve been working with a lot of local businesses here. So we’ve been doing that and that’s been really fun. 

Morag:

I saw you do that the other day, was it like a reel or something and you were pulling out prizes and people were winning things for donating. That was so fun. 

Emma:

It’s been a lot of fun!

Morag:

It brings together all the different businesses and like you’re creating community in the process of doing that locally, as well as getting that support more broadly. That’s fantastic. 

Emma:

The more I do this, the more I realize this is all about connection. Connection at every different level.

Morag:

What I really love about what you’re doing too, and how you’ve explained all of these things you’re doing, is that the kind of model that you’re using can be adapted and applied to so many other different concepts. So maybe another pollinator project somewhere else, but maybe a completely other different sort of project taking that kind of community lead bigger picture, connective thread, weaving, the approach that you’re taking to activate local dreams and rewilding different spaces and reimagining urban commons and all of these different things. This approach, I think, is so incredibly powerful in bringing about positive change. So I hope people do get in and support you. I’ll put them down in the notes too, but maybe just for people who are out on a walk somewhere and want to type it in right now, What are your websites? 

Emma:

The website to go to will be theheartgardeningproject.org.au and that will have all the links to the crowd fund and that will also be, if you’d like to purchase my book, that’s also where you can do that. Although there are some other amazing places like the series and the Botanic Gardens and that you can purchase the book as well.

Morag:

Yeah, the book is fantastic and I absolutely recommend anyone who’s living particularly in the Melbourne area. Interestingly, people around Australia are buying it. 

Emma:

I can imagine because it seems like a lot of its transfer, a lot of the information is transferable, which has been fantastic for me, because of course I wrote it for the MPC,because that’s what I could write. 

Morag:

The whole process that you’ve talked about is relevant anywhere. People can adapt their local indigenous plant lists and things like that or find different partners that they want to work with. But the whole concept and the process and the structure and the thinking behind it all is applicable everywhere beyond Australia, so thank you so much for taking the time to make that book to put your photographs in it too. I think it’s beautiful, the examples that you show of these gardens, it’s just really important to see the possibilities and to show what a nature strip can really look like. I grew up in Melbourne and we always call the nature strips nature shoes, but really they weren’t nature strips. They were just strips of sometimes grass, sometimes over trodden bits of dirt. They’re really not any nature going on. They’re very much accepted that kind of a microscale. So they show the possibilities of what can be done in small, very highly, urban environments. 

And thank you for joining me today, Emma. Thank you for all this amazing leadership that you’re bringing into this space and transformation. We were going to try and meet when I was in Melbourne recently, but I got sick and then you got sick and now hopefully next time we’ll be able to meet up and I’d love to come around and see your gardens and catch up in person. That would be absolutely fantastic.It’s been so lovely talking to you. It’s been really fantastic.

Emma:

 I think you’ve summed up so many of the things that I talked about so much better than me. Thank you for having me.

Morag:

It’s an absolute pleasure and so I’ll be sharing all the links that Emma talked about .You can find them in the show notes and follow it up, make sure that you support the Crowdfunder and also get a hold of the book, it is absolutely brilliant. Thank you again, Emma. It’s a delight to have you on the show today.

Emma:

Thank you, Morag.

Morag:

Thanks, everyone for tuning into this episode of Sense-making in a Changing World. I’m delighted to be able to share my conversation about the Heart Gardening Project and the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor with Emma cutting with you. Remember, check out the show notes for more links and leave us a lovely review and go ahead and subscribe so you receive notification of our weekly podcast episodes. Wishing you all the best. Take care and stay safe.

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