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Melbourne-based artists Kylie Wilkinson and Nat Thomas have been snooping around Marrickville since the beginning of January. But the local cops have had no need to worry. In that time, the Melbournians have spoken to over 40 gardeners and gardening groups for their art project, which is part of Marrickville Council’s Artist in Residency Program.

“We’ve been walking around Marrickville Shire and peeking over back garden fences, looking for fruit and vegetable patches,” Thomas laughed. “Organic fruit and vegetables cost a lot of money, and people are increasingly turning to do-it-yourself and communal options.”

“It’s definitely a growing trend,” agreed Wilkinson, who cited a highly enthusiastic community response to the project. “Lots of people don’t have much room where they live but want to get involved with these sorts of initiatives.

“Many gardeners go to great lengths to avoid using pesticides, most were mad about compost and there was a lot of interest in worm farms. It was amazing to see the many different structures being used as a trellis or stake, and the extent of water recycling initiatives.”

One aspect which was new to Wilkinson and Thomas was the concept of verge gardening. “I hadn’t heard of it before,” Wilkinson said. “On Liddell Road, they’ve pushed Council to allow them to grow vegies at the back of their houses, on the laneways. The depth of enthusiasm has been a surprise – people definitely want to talk about it. It’s really great.”

Mayor of Marrickville, Councillor Sam Iskandar, said the art project demonstrated the diversity of cultures, history and knowledge in the area. “The Marrickville community is incredibly rich in gardening experience and expertise, partly because of the different ethnic groups that feature so strongly here in our local government area,” he said. “Gardening is just one way we can share our ideas and tips to make our backyards a sustainable and enjoyable place.”

Ms Wilkinson said the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Marrickville area also influenced what was grown in the backyard, with many edible gardens. “We met with people from Italian, Greek and Portuguese backgrounds who were very proud gardeners. A lot from older generations had grown up on farms and were growing what they knew from back home,” Ms Wilkinson said.

The results of the residency were showcased at an exhibition called Dynamic Lifter on Australia Day at Petersham Town Hall.