The Australian verge is a typology within itself. Although they come in varying shapes and sizes a common theme exists – a large patch of lawn (or weeds) with a council tree or streetlight placed upon it. Even though the verge area is owned by your local council, millions of Australians take on the ownership of the land by watering, mowing and eradicating weeds from the stretch of lawn outside their front fence.
Growing up it was my father’s pride and joy and he took great satisfaction in having the best looking verge on the street, yelling at anyone who would dare to walk on the hallowed turf or god forbid let their dog do its business on there. When I was younger I remember my dad mowing the verge in a pair of budgie smugglers and a pair of double pluggers trimming the edges with a pair of scissors as he just couldn’t trust the barbarity of the whipper snipper. How Australian is that! Time and time again I couldn’t understand why he would put so much time and effort into something that we didn’t actually own, and he would answer me that first impressions mattered a lot and by having a great entrance to our house it left a good impression. I guess he was right, first impressions do mean a lot, particularly when you are selling or buying a house – and I suppose it starts with the verge as a first point of contact.
Years later we upsized and according to my dad the new owners were sold as soon as they pulled up and saw the grandeur of the grassed verge. Years later we drove past our old house only to see cars parked upon it, tire marks and weeds growing through what was once a flat sea of green. My dad cried. Our new house began the same way, with dad spending many hours and many litres of water on his new project. But as my sisters grew up and got their licenses the verge soon became an area to park their cars, my father was broken.
Years later, when we had all left home, my father gave me an enthused call to announce that after discovering the gardens of Piet Oudolf (a landscape architect known for his work on the Highline in New York City) he was going to create a native water wise example of his work. He was now going to take something that was quintessentially Australian and make it even more Australian! It was a slow start but after two years of perseverance and many hours of hard work it is now a masterpiece.
It has completely transformed the overall look of their house and all guests are suitably impressed by the texture, colour and variance in attractive native flora and most importantly the water wise attributes of the garden. Passers-by often stop and talk to my dad (in his speedos) about his verge, take photos and ask about what species he uses and where they can get them from. But most remarkably is the effect it has had on the neighbours who now have native verges of their own. It has completely transformed the street into a water wise, low maintenance botanical display of our magnificent flora, and fauna, as the birdlife has doubled as a result.
With many states under water restrictions, why not remove the grass and create your own Piet Oudolf inspired native verge of your own. It’s low maintenance and requires very little water. Most councils also offer free or discounted native species for you to transform your verge. Not only does it look great and is environmentally responsible, it leaves a great first impression!