Community garden initiative thrives

Councillors will decide on Monday night whether to endorse the City's 15th Community Garden in Ultimo.

The plot in McKee Street Park in Ultimo began with the help of a City of Sydney matching grant. During the garden's 12-month trial, residents spent more than 1,400 hours building, planting, pruning, composting and maintaining the garden and membership has more than doubled to 38 people.

Some residents have no garden space and some didn't have ways to meet their neighbours. Community gardens provide local spaces for people meet their neighbours and learn about growing herbs and vegetables as well as organic gardening practices like composting.

At the Council committee meeting we heard from a range of local people about the garden. While two opposed the garden, the majority were passionate supporters and the opportunities it has given them to connect with their neighbours. Young mums are gardening with retirees - developing new friendships and learning new skills.

Ultimo grandmother Sue Rymer, who started the Ultimo Community Garden, said it was an important community meeting place: "We're growing organic horseradish, eggplant, capsicum, potatoes, beans, heaps of herbs, cherry tomatoes, edible flowers, several kinds of spinach and Japanese pumpkin. We usually harvest on a Sunday morning or Wednesday afternoon and divide it up. We grew an incredible amount of rocket recently - one of our gardeners, a young chef, made pesto for everyone."

"Everyone stops for a chat. The kids come over from the playground and nearby preschool; elderly Chinese people leave with handfuls of herbs, and our gardeners are a fantastic mix of ages and people from all different backgrounds."

The City's Matching Grants Program offers funding to support not-for-profit community or neighbourhood groups with projects that will improve, enhance or celebrate their local village.

The City "matches" the community's contributions to each project. Community contributions need not be cash - they can also include volunteer hours and services in kind.

In 2010-11, Council funded 29 new neighbourhood-based improvement projects worth more than $116,000. Residents and community groups are encouraged to get involved in the Matching Grants Program, which is now taking applications year round.

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