Meet Marcello. A larger than life Latino living in the inner suburbs of Sydney flexing a natural green-thumb. With no traditional training, Marcello’s experience and infectious love of plants comes from his time in New Zealand where he shared a flourishing backyard garden with a friend for fifteen years. Here in Sydney, he has another story. It starts with a small garden on his street and ends with the transformation of an entire neighbourhood.
Greener Spaces Better Places sat down with Marcello to unravel his community gardening project that changed everything.
How did this street greening project start?
I lost my job during Covid, so I had more time on my hands. One day I was looking at the verge out the front of my house on the street. It was so empty and dry. I thought; ‘how much nicer would this be with some green?’ So I just went ahead and did it. I created a little green garden.
What was the reaction from your street?
Once it was done my next door neighbour came out and he was all ‘Oh Marcello, this looks amazing, I wish you could do the same for me!’ and I said; ‘No problem, I’d love to do it.’ And so I did.
So then we have two little verge gardens on the street and my neighbour on the other side, he comes out one day with the same reaction. I say ‘okay, I’d love to do yours too.’ Then another neighbour, and another neighbour, and then my friend David across the street, and then more neighbours. It goes on until I end up doing almost the whole street!
How did this change your neighbourhood?
Because of the gardens, the whole neighbourhood has ended up meeting each other. We know names, the kids, we walk around, talk, look at the gardens together. If we are all standing in the street looking at a garden, others will wander up and join in the conversation. Saying things like; ‘Oh it’s so dry it needs more water or, look how well those are growing!’
What I love is when one neighbour is out watering their verge garden, or I’m out watering mine, and the other neighbours see and think; ‘Oh! I need to water mine also.’ So one by one, people are coming out of their houses waving and saying hello up and down and across the street.
So this garden has brought you a whole community that you didn’t have before!
Yes, it’s so nice. Before the garden, I’d see my neighbours but never say hello because you don’t know who they are. Sometimes, you live in your neighbourhood for twenty years and you never know them. Let alone go into their house.
Now when my neighbours catch me on the street and they say ‘Hey, Marcello, how are you? Come in, come in’. I feel very lucky.
And how has this made you feel?
I’m Latino, I have Spanish blood, so it’s full on. I kiss and hug and laugh and talk and because my family isn’t here, my friends and those living on my street are so important. Now we are like family. We text each other, we stop on the street to talk, I’m invited into their homes. It all feels very welcoming.
We had a street party the other week spread across four houses where we ate pizza and had a drink and played music. One of our neighbours David, got a new car and the whole neighbourhood came to see. It’s so nice now, a big community.
What would you like to tell people who are thinking of greening a little street garden of their own?
Being in the garden, it’s like a yoga class. You come away from it with a lot of peace in your soul. When you’re with the plants you are connecting. It eases worry and stress. So I love to garden and I recommend it. And I love my neighbours. These people are wonderful and I feel truly lucky. All because of that first little verge garden.
If Marcello has inspired you to start your own verge garden, we recommend speaking to your local council and heading to your local nursery, to source native species that grow best in your suburb’s conditions.