With soiled hands and broad smiles, two hundred proud new-age gardeners planted seedlings in recycled plastic milk bottles before applying a bright paint job. Alongside them, many other community members were getting involved in a range of innovative activities as part of Stretch – Mandurah’s 2009 annual arts and culture festival. Organised by the City of Mandurah, Stretch received strong support from the community.
Having received a new lease on life, the milk bottles were suspended by string from a specially made structure to form a Hanging Community Garden – the likes of which the town had never seen. Two hundred plants, resplendent in their glorified bottles, hung for all to see before becoming part of the local senior citizens’ centre’s fundraising efforts.
This new take on community activation was the joint brainchild of Creating Communities Australia – a Perth based social planning consultancy and the City of Mandurah. The aim was to develop an activity that would not only engage and inspire the local community, but also activate an otherwise forgotten public space.
The unusual environmental art activity put a new spin on recycling and grabbed the attention of community members of all ages. It caught on as one of the major attractions of Stretch and a constant stream of new gardeners could be seen flowing through the activity – all leaving with a smile and new found sense of community. Through their contribution, participants became a part of something bigger than just the activity as active community members.
Kids have community pride
Community pride was particularly evident in the youngest people taking part. Kids of all ages pawed over the available plants before choosing just the right one to tend to. They then took to getting their hands dirty, decorating their ‘pot’ and finally, hanging it amongst the other colourful contributions to the garden.
Participants also contributed to creating a sense of place in a previously unused area behind the senior citizens centre. Featuring a beautiful shady sheoak tree, the space overlooks a quiet part of the Mandurah foreshore – an ideal spot for people to come together in the future, as they had at Stretch. Creating the hanging garden in this space highlighted its potential, and it is now earmarked as the location for a more permanent community garden.
This proposed garden may follow a more formal design, but the seeds of pride and creative recycling that have been planted among the community members are the result of an unconventional use of the humble plastic milk bottle.