Many elements combine to make the corner of Raglan and Station Streets in Port Melbourne an especially pleasant place. The Station Street Trading Company cafe is a warm focus during COVID-19 restrictions. People can safely distance from one another in the spacious Railway Reserves.
The cafe’s surroundings have been transformed by works by the Port Phillip Council and and the application of a gardener.
Gardener Sandi Pullman lives near the cafe. Her tiny front cottage garden spills over the front fence onto the footpath. Sandi studied horticulture at Burnley. She has long and varied experience working in private gardens and has a particular interest in heritage gardens, working for a time in the garden of La Trobe’s Cottage.
Four years ago, the Port Phillip Council created raingardens in flood prone Raglan Street and extended the kerbs. The more spacious kerb outstands created new opportunities for Sandi for whom ‘there’s never enough room!’ for gardening. Retaining the hardy Council plants around the perimeter of the garden beds, she has inserted flowering plants within.
Sandi has recently completed a Masters thesis on Ina Higgins, suffragist, women’s activist and pioneer landscape gardener. Higgins campaigned for women to be admitted to Burnley and to make landscape gardening a profession for women. She was one of the first women in Victoria, and possibly Australia, to graduate from Burnley School of Horticulture in 1902. She paved the way for better known landscape gardeners such as Edna Walling.
Sandi pieced together Ina’s story from references found amongst the papers of her more famous family1 as well as from newspapers of the day. She concludes that Higgins greatest contribution lay in the opportunities she created for women in landscape gardening and horticulture. None of the gardens she designed still exist.
Sandi follows in the footsteps of Ina Higgins. On the tiny footprint of an enlarged footpath, she curates her garden beds with care. She’s a self confessed potterer. Her style is Australian cottage garden but she is impelled by colour. She respects the conditions and constraints but is not daunted by them. Sandi is a very public gardener. What started off as a project to give herself gardening pleasure, now delights others. ‘People love it’ she says. She’s cheerful, like the sunflowers and hollyhocks she has cultivated outside the cafe. Her approach is a bit trial and error – to see what works, rather than working to a scheme.
Well wishers can support her gardening efforts by leaving a gold coin donation for seeds harvested from the Raglan St gardens to plant in their own gardens.
In the most recent Griffith Review, Squats, Squares and City Plans, Mitra Anderson-Oliver describes how she stumbled upon a delightful public park in Berlin. Inquiring into the story of the park, she learned that instead of employing a security guard to prevent recurrent vandalism, the owners of this open space employed a gardener and allocated a modest maintenance budget to its care. She finds that the park was secured for open space in early town planning for the area, emphasising the fundamental importance of securing open space in planning. Living in Berlin, she experiences the depth of citizen involvement in, and passion for, their city. She wonders why we are less inclined to be involved. Her essay concludes: ‘The city is ours, for the taking and the making’.
From observation during the COVID-19 restrictions it seems that people have been taking to nature strip and public gardening even more ardently and with deep commitment to the restitution and repair of public land.
Perhaps employing public gardeners as part of COVID-19 recovery would deliver great benefit to local communities.
If you’re thinking of establishing a footpath garden, it’s worth checking out the City of Port Phillip’s guide to gardening on nature strips before you begin. The common sense guidelines balance Council’s responsibilities for public safety with people’s desire to garden.
Thanks for your time Sandi Pullman for the zoom interview on 4 August 2020 and for many conversations over the years.
to impel: to suggest even more strongly an inner drive to do something and a greater urgency to act (Merriam-Webster)
Sandra Pullman Women gardeners without chaperones: the role of Ina Higgins in advancing women in horticulture in Victoria The La Trobe Journal No. 99 March 2017
1 Henry Bournes Higgins, Ina’s brother, is most strongly associated with the celebrated Harvester judgement which set a minimum wage appropriate to ‘a human being in a civilized community’ when he was President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Refer to the Australian Dictionary of Biography for more.
Mitra Anderson-Oliver Squats, Squares and City Plans Griffith Review 69