FETHERSTON GARDENS, WESTON – SUBMISSION FOR PRELIMINARY SKETCH PLAN PROCESS

Anyone interested can read the WCCC Gardens Working Group and Fetherson Gardens Friends group submission on the future development of the gardens, to see the suggestions that have already been conveyed.”

FETHERSTON GARDENS, WESTON :

SUBMISSION FOR PRELIMINARY SKETCH PLAN PROCESS

WESTON CREEK COMMUNITY COUNCIL/ FETHERSTON GARDENS FRIENDS

15 JULY 2011

1. Background

These gardens in Heysen Street, Weston were designed and developed as the former Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) Horticulture College campus which was opened in 1974. They incorporate an arboretum which was created as a proving ground for hardwood species by ACT Parks and Gardens in the 1970s. The gardens include defined woodlands gardens, and an enclosed "secret garden" as well as the arboretum. They have been named after the first and longest serving Head of the Horticulture College, Tony Fetherston, who was personally involved in their design and implementation and whose ashes (along with those of his wife) are scattered in the garden grounds.

The CIT’s Weston campus was closed in 2009, when the gardens ceased being a purpose-built educational facility. Later in 2009, in response to representations from the WCCC, the ACT Government dropped its plans to redevelop the site for residential purposes, and handed the land back to the Weston Creek Community for use as a community facility, while the former classroom buildings became part of the Canberra Islamic School. The gardens are currently a refuge for some wildlife, notably the herd of kangaroos which are longstanding residents of North Weston ridge. A small Xeriscape Garden developed to demonstrate dry horticulture, was also transferred to the Canberra Islamic School.

The Weston Creek Community Council is working with the Fetherston Gardens Friends as a Sub-committee to coordinate the community’s participation in the garden redevelopment project. The current goal of the WCCC and the Fetherston Gardens Friends, in conjunction with the Parks, Conservation and Lands Department of the ACT Government, is to bring the gardens back to a condition where they can again be open to the public and become a unique recreational feature in the community.

The Fetherston Gardens are a welcome addition to the community’s assets. It is envisaged they will be maintained with support from the community in partnership with local government, non-government organizations (such as Rotary and Lions), the Weston Creek Community Council and the Fetherston Gardens Friends. The Friends, who include former CIT employees and graduates, as well as residents of the local community, have already organized volunteer ‘working bees’ to help restore the gardens.

The historical legacy of the gardens remains important. The historical links with the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) should not be forgotten. If possible, the memorial sundial should be restored and located permanently in a suitable, sunny position.

2. Furthering the Objectives of the Gardens

Preparation of a Master Plan for the Gardens, covering several years, and incorporating a long-term strategy for the development of the gardens, is important. This plan should be sympathetic to the concept of a significant component of maintenance and development of the gardens being undertaken by a volunteer workforce, with the benefit of guidance of a smaller number of people with expert horticultural knowledge.

The gardens should always be treated as belonging to the Weston Creek Community. They should always reflect what the Community wants and expects of the gardens. Access and freedom to use the “amenity” of the gardens should always be the guiding principle. There should only be minimal necessary restrictions on the Community’s use of the gardens.

Appreciation of the gardens for what they are is a primary objective: they are a vital, beautiful, versatile garden setting, with woodlands, arboretum, and some more formal spaces as well. They are essentially a ‘quiet space’ lending themselves to calm, restorative meditational activities, without excluding some more vigorous activities on occasions. However, the gardens are not the same as a picnic area, or a public park or a children’s playground, although they may incorporate some of the features of each of these.

Any use of the gardens as an educational facility should be encouraged, in keeping with the original purpose and uses of the gardens. This should also be compatible with the Canberra Islamic School sharing access to and enjoyment of the gardens.

The role the gardens have previously played in understanding the importance of sustainable horticulture and ‘wise water’ use should continue to inform the development of the gardens.

3. Operational model for the gardens

Public access and enjoyment of the gardens should be the paramount principle for the gardens.  Access to the gardens should be free of charge and on a “self-guided” basis. The gardens should only be closed at such times as would enhance their protection and the safety of those using the gardens.  Basically, the gardens should be open from sunrise to sunset.

Working through volunteers should be the mainstay of the Community’s role in the gardens. A Fetherston Gardens Friends group should be maintained, which is connected to the Weston Creek Community Council and includes service and volunteer groups within the local community such as Rotary and Lions Clubs. Volunteers from any and all community groups in Weston Creek should be encouraged; none should be excluded.

Working bees are an effective way to help maintain and plan the gardens. Working bees can be an effective way of ensuring community support and interest in the gardens, but are not a substitute for adequate government funding and professional management of the gardens.

The Fetherston Gardens Friends and the volunteers should maintain professional contact with other garden groups in the ACT as appropriate.

Activities that are not encouraged in the gardens:

    1. The gardens should not be seen primarily as a venue for sporting activities, but low- impact sports should be allowed.
    2. The gardens should not be seen primarily as a picnic or barbecue venue, but modest family picnics/barbecues should be allowed and suitable facilities provided.
    3. Extensive facilities for children’s playgrounds are not necessarily suited to the gardens.

4. Developing the Fetherston Gardens as a Community Facility: Some Priorities

First and foremost, the garden needs to have a sound and sustainable basis for its sources of water. To some extent, this can start with what is already there, but it needs to be taken much further as soon as possible. An integrated water strategy is needed, to be implemented in association with Parks, Conservation and Lands. This should be consistent with, and take advantage of, long-term water usage plans of the ACT Government for the Weston Creek area, including use of recycled water from Weston Ponds.

Access to the gardens should be free between sunrise and sunset. This principle operates at many public gardens, and will be understood and accepted within the Community. Outside these hours, the gardens will need to be locked to protect them against vandalism and misuse, and for public safety.

The gardens should be seen primarily as a community facility open and available to any members of the Weston Creek and ACT communities. The gardens may be used for community events and purposes as long as these activities do not put the gardens at risk.

Who controls access on behalf of the Community needs to be decided. On behalf of the ACT Government it should be Parks, Conservation and Lands, who should always be mindful of the need to consult the community in reaching any decision on use of, or access to, the gardens.

However, as a public facility much enhancement is still urgently needed. For example:

    1. Security and public safety need to be assured immediately. Adequate security for the gardens is required to protect them from damage and vandalism Uniform fencing needs to be planned for and erected as soon as possible.
    2. Provision of electricity and a sustainable and a diverse and reliable supply of water for the gardens are required urgently. 
    3. Appropriate front and rear entrance gates need to be designed and constructed as a matter of urgency. Proper, lockable entrance gates need to be installed with the main gate alongside the Canberra Islamic School entrance, and a second entrance from the yet-to- be-built road at the top (eastern side) of the gardens. A working entrance on the northeast side – as currently exists – would allow for tradesmen and Parks and Gardens staff entry..
    4. Sufficient visitor parking needs to be set aside beside both entrances. If possible, slightly more extensive parking space should be provided at the main entrance, perhaps using adjacent land that is still owned by other organisations.
    5. Toilet facilities for members of the public, and for staff/workers, need to be professionally designed and constructed, and properly maintained.

5. Enhancing the Design of the Gardens

Nothing should be done to detract from or destroy the original design, concept and vision for the gardens. This does not mean no change, but means preserving the original ideas that motivated the gardens’ planners and creators. An important feature of the gardens is that they do not favour native plants ahead of exotic/imported species, but allow different plants suited the cold, dry Canberra climate to co-exist. This approach should be maintained. Is not necessarily the role of the Fetherston Gardens to give preference to native species which are adequately preserved and showcased elsewhere in the ACT.

Ongoing rejuvenation of the gardens will be important and continuing regeneration of the gardens existing plants will be important. Facilities and infrastructure to allow this to happen is essential. New plantings and ideas should always be welcome.

  1. A small centrally located building needs to be built as a Gardens Centre for small indoor events, to carry out modest office and public information roles, for storage of equipment, and for essential public facilities such as toilets. This building does not need to be elaborate or complex, but should be aesthetically attractive, as well as easy to look after, maintain and operate. Its external appearance should be in keeping with the natural setting of the gardens.
  2. Some members of the Friends Group wish to donate their small personal horticultural libraries to the Fetherston Gardens. This would be an excellent way to enhance the ongoing education role of the gardens at minimum cost. A library could be included in the central building mentioned above.
  3. A small stage area for public performances/events, similar to the music events on Eucalyptus lawn in Botanic Gardens, would be highly desirable. This could be located in the open grassed area at the high, south-west corner of the site.
  4. Establishment of a Men’s Shed in the gardens could be considered.

Public appreciation of the gardens needs to be aided by appropriate signage and explanations of the plantings, designs and facilities of the gardens. Signage for as many specimen plants and trees should be prepared.

Additional seating around the gardens is essential to aid appreciation of the plantings and the design of the gardens. This would be consistent with the contemplative quiet role for the gardens.

6. Furthering the Development of the Gardens

Any ideas for the further enhancement and promotion of the gardens should be welcomed.

It would be most desirable if the gardens could be developed as a outdoors venue for major Community events, where this is appropriate. One example is the Weston Creek Festival, which could be developed into an annual Autumn Festival to take advantage of the autumn colours of the gardens.

7. Funding the Community’s Activities in and around the gardens

Funding to support the maintenance and further development of the gardens should be welcome from any quarter, as long as it is without conditions and can be declared publicly.

Appropriate ways of recognising donations to the gardens should be found.

Grants from outside organisations can be accepted upon a decision by a majority of members of the WCCC Council or the Fetherston Gardens Friends Group.

Fetherston Gardens Friends

Tim Dalton, Chair                                                       Lesley Pattinson, Working Bee Convenor/Newsletter Editor

Trevor Wilson, Deputy Chair                                      Melinda  Clark, Treasurer

Michelle Weston, Secretary                                       Mal Ferguson, Member

Adrienne Walkington, Member

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