The idea for Brisbane City Council library gardens was sparked when I delivered a gardening workshop in the seminar room of a local library. Library workshops like this occur almost every week within at least one of the Council’s thirty-two libraries and Queensland media members play a significant role in their delivery.
My workshop topic was, ‘Growing Food in the Suburbs’. Dismayed by the dead and dying acalypha bushes at the entrance to the library, I suggested that library gardens could transform not only the aesthetics of a library, but also the experience of library users. ‘Imagine if edible herbs or citrus formed part of the landscape? You could pick a lime or harvest some parsley from the garden whenever you visit.’ Little did I know that the head of library services, Sharan Harvey, was in the audience that day. After the workshop, this dynamic, library visionary approached me, suggesting that she loved the idea and ‘we’ should do it. The Brisbane City Council library garden program was born.
Why plant library gardens?
- enrich the experience for library visitors, encouraging them to enjoy Brisbane’s liveability and subtropical lifestyle
- engage local communities in learning through hands on practical experiences
- increase the library’s place as a community destination and gathering place
- enhance library surroundings and increase the library’s connection to the outdoors
- increase library patronage
Library gardens are maintained primarily by volunteers.
Volunteers work in consultation with the library team leader and in collaboration with staff who maintain Council assets at the library. Library visitors of all ages and abilities are welcome to volunteer to help keep library gardens well maintained and attractive. Volunteers are a highly valued part of the library community and gardening-related learning programs are run for specifically for volunteers from time to time in recognition of their contribution.
Library garden volunteer groups are community-driven.
The library team leader typically asks one or more individuals to adopt a liaison role for ease of communication. Library team leaders speak face to face with volunteers, but also communicate via email and notices posted in the library. Volunteers gather once a month with a member of the library team over morning tea for updates and discussion, but visit the garden much more often to undertake maintenance. Maintenance tasks include planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding and mulching. Volunteers take on self-chosen roles and tasks suited to their interest, ability and knowledge. Volunteers harvest bunches of herbs and edible flowers for library visitors to take home. They collect cuttings and seeds to grow and replant back in the garden. Seed saving from the garden and the free distribution of seeds through the library also takes place. The harvest from library gardens belongs to everyone and is never sold.
Volunteers are mindful of their safety and the safety of others.
Enclosed shoes, hats and gloves are worn in the garden and use of sunscreen is recommended. Tools are used with care and not left unattended. Volunteers are mindful of all library visitors who use the garden, especially children.
Library gardens are maintained on organic principles.
Gardens are planted with annual and perennial herbs, leafy greens, edible flowers and selected citrus like lemons, limes (exotic and native) that can be enjoyed, harvested and shared by all library visitors. Planting focuses on high yielding edible herbs and repeat harvest leafy greens. Other vegetable crops are avoided. Poisonous plants and fruit or seeds potentially harmful to children like chillies are not be planted. Only organic fertilisers and sprays are used. Worm tubes allow the neat and effective recycling of organic waste from the garden back into the soil. Coffee grounds from coffee carts associated with each library are recycled. Council also provides a green waste bin.
Brisbane City Council provides basic tools and consumables.
Council provides hand trowels, brooms, rakes, buckets, hoses, watering cans and dust masks for use by volunteers and these are stored onsite. Volunteers are welcome to bring their favourite hand tools along to use when they visit, but these are not stored on-site. Council provides mulch and a supply of fertiliser for each library garden. Replacement plants and other small sundry items are be funded by Council, with prior approval of the library team leader.
Library gardens can be found at Mitchelton, Holland Park and Grange Libraries in Brisbane. More are planned as library buildings and their surrounds undergo progressive refurbishment. Library gardens are also gaining popularity in neighbouring municipal authorities.
Hints and Tips
Shared experience from library garden volunteers
The most popular herbs are parsley and basil. It is useful to establish 3-5 plants of these herbs together in several different places in the garden.
Rosemary is in high demand for Anzac and Remembrance Day.
The majority of the plants in library gardens are annuals and short-lived perennials. These plants need to be completely removed and replaced from time to time. Organic matter/compost is added with new plants.
Everyone loves to see edible flowers in the garden. Salvia, dianthus and daisy flowers are popular inclusions in library gardens. Children love to pick flowers and this is encouraged.
Turmeric, ginger and galangal are grown, harvested and replanted seasonally. The harvest is washed and shared with library visitors. Turmeric is particularly popular.
Library volunteers welcome planting suggestions from different cultural groups so everyone can learn and appreciate the diversity of plants. Talking to people about plants in the garden is an important role undertaken by volunteers.
Organic fertilizer is applied to the garden each season with liquid nutrients and seaweed used as often as is necessary to keep plants strong and healthy.
Plant-based oil sprays applied to the citrus (lemons, limes, native citrus) once each season to keep scale, sooty mould and bronze orange bugs under control.
Photos and other records about library garden activities are used to track the progress of gardens and form a historical record.
Volunteers provide signage to indicate the readiness of plants for harvesting to help the garden thrive and prevent overharvesting. Scissors and paper bags to support good harvesting practice are made available by the library.
Seeds are saved from the best plants in the garden and from the gardens of the volunteers. Dedicated seed savers pack the seed for library patrons to take home. On average 500 seed packs are distributed free of charge each month from library gardens.
Library gardens are fenced to exclude dogs. Visitors who bring their dogs to the library appreciate a water bowl and tie up area outside the garden.