Victorian Landcare Magazine - Winter 2019, Issue 75

River Garden feeds the community at Bass

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Local food Community

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Above The launch of the River Garden at Bass in December 2017 with more than 60 people in attendance.

In 2015 the Bass Coast Landcare Network leased a hectare of river flat located behind its office in Bass to create a garden. We wanted to create a site for trials, a community garden and education precinct, and a place to demonstrate alternative and innovative approaches to horticulture based on biological and regenerative principles.

The concept for the River Garden grew from a need to engage our changing demographic (traditional family farms are being replaced by tree changers and lifestyle farmers), encourage diverse land uses, and provide more fresh fruit and vegetables to our community.

There are only limited opportunities to buy fresh food in Bass and the east coast communities of Western Port so the garden was a way of helping to expand the local food economy, working alongside existing local food aggregators such as Grow Lightly and Udder and Hoe.

The River Garden seeks to improve human health by teaching chemical-free techniques of growing nutrient dense food and encouraging people to engage in the well documented health benefits of gardening. Soil and landscape health are improved by using chemical-free regenerative techniques that increase soil health and volume over time. Community health is targeted by forming a creative community around healthy food growing. By stimulating the local food economy and encouraging a diversification of agricultural enterprises we are also improving regional economic health.

In consultation with the founders of the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) and other experts we created our first master plan in 2016. A framework of guiding principles and designated spaces was outlined so the site would develop in a flexible way to meet the needs and interests of those involved.

The River Garden was launched in December 2017. In 2018 funding from the Port Phillip and Westernport CMA enabled us to run a series of four workshops. Horticulture expert Jarrod Ruch (former head gardener at The Diggers Club) facilitated the series. Participants learned invaluable techniques and we established plants and infrastructure while watching the garden take shape.

The River Garden in full summer growing glory in February 2019.

Above: The River Garden in full summer growing glory in February 2019.

With the input of volunteers, Landcare staff and a Community Corrections Crew the River Garden now features:

• Established contour swale beds with espalier fruit trees, vegetables and berry trellises, which are so successful at holding water we haven’t had to water through an almost rainless summer;

• A ten-bed comparative trial. The trial
is testing combinations of soil treatments including rock-dust, bio-char, green manure and compost tea against a control;

• Hops and sweet potato trials;

• A nut tree orchard of 50 trees and an expanding fruit tree orchard of 15 trees;

• Drip irrigation;

• Beehives and a shelterbelt of indigenous native plants designed to attract beneficial insects;

• An independently run nursery on subleased land providing seedlings to
the site and community.

The focus is now on establishing the site as a community and education hub with monthly master classes and volunteer days, and to continue establishing infrastructure, plantings and various other trial sites. Through partnerships with local health providers and other community organisations we plan to grow regional health through the creative co-design of programs and projects using the River Garden as a wonderful community education resource.

Peter Baird is Education Officer for Bass Coast Landcare Network.

For more information: go to or email Peter at


Above: Bass

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By Peter Baird