A Bush Food Garden for your school or community!

Getting started | Preparing the plot | Sourcing the plants | Useful links


Bush Food Gardens are a great way to gain the experience of traditional Aboriginal plants as well as restoring biodiversity to the environment.

In the NSW Southern Tablelands and the ACT, there are few Aboriginal food plants growing in the vicinity of most suburban communities and it is sometimes difficult to buy appropriate local native species. Consequently, Bush Food Gardens often contain native species purchased from nurseries which are endemic to other areas of Australia. The purpose of this page is to focus on the identification and supply of species that occur naturally in this region.

Getting Started

What kinds of food plants can you grow?

Start with some interesting and edible plants which occur naturally in the region. Aboriginal peoples included fruit, nectar, shoots, roots, tubers and some seeds in their diet.

Choose from these food plants, but remember to take note of any special requirements that each plant might have and keep this in mind when choosing your planting site and maintenance regime. I have included small and less expensive plants but perhaps your budget can extend to a Tree Fern!

Roots/Tubers Fruits/Nectar Seeds
Native Leek Geebung Wattle
Native Geranium Native Raspberry Purple Hovea
Nodding Chocolate Lily Grevillea Blue Flax Lily
Tuber Spike-Rush Five Corners Pigweed
Vanilla Lily Banksia  
Yam Daisy Kangaroo Apple  
Bracken Fern    
Water Ribbons    

As well as providing food, plants were also useful for medicine, tools, and fibre.

So you could include some of these species -

Preparing the plot

You've chosen some plants you'd like to grow - and probably you've thought about where you're going to plant them. Now it is time to draw up a sketch plan of the plot and plantings, including paths, watering system and signage ideas. The most successful garden will recreate the relationships in which the plants thrive naturally.

If you're tackling a large or difficult plot it might be good to contact a landscape expert for advice. Even if you decide to go it alone, some horticultural advice might be useful:

Australian Native Plants Society Canberra Region have a page of tips.

Xeriscape gives details on how to establish a water conscious garden in the ACT.

The Australian Plants Society - NSW region features school gardens on their 'Education' page - for teachers/coordinators who want to establish a school garden, including planning, fundraising, plant selection and planting out.

Garden Plot Alternative

There may be some reason why you can't plant out in a garden plot, such as lack of suitable space, timing to coincide activity with growing season, or a security problem. Don't give up on the idea completely! Some relevant species are particularly suitable for pot or tub planting, which also give you added flexibility for re-locating or planting out later.

Tub plantings allow you to plant species that may not grow well in an open garden in your situation and in a tub you can exercise greater control over their environmental conditions than in an open planting.

Note: Soil in tubs dries out more quickly than in the ground and also the nutrients get washed out of the tub soil. Take care with watering and maybe add some 'food' during the growing seasons.

To fertilise or not?
Even native gardens benefit from some fertilizer: it may be helpful to learn about soil and nutrients as well as the phosphorous needs of some Australian plants. But remember, apply little and often if it is soluble fertilizer, or use slowly soluble forms.

Sourcing the plants

You can either choose commercially available plants, propagate from stock that people may already hold, or try collecting seed. There are good reasons for collecting seed from your local area, but you have to wait a bit longer for the full effect of your garden plan. Seeds are also available from some garden suppliers and there are some procedures to follow to ensure good planting. Some methods are more appropriate then others for individual species.

Demand for native food plants has increased with the development of the industry promoting it. A few years ago it was difficult to obtain native food plants other than very hardy plants commonly used in revegetation, such as Acacia and Eucalyptus, mainly because they were not valued horticulturally.

With increased information and availability people are now valuing Australian native species much more and are willing to try the foods used by Aboriginal people. Some nurseries even promote these species in this way.

Native food plant suppliers:

Nursery suppliers

Australian Native Bushfoods Catalogue from CERES Permaculture and Bushfood Nursery in East Brunswick, Melbourne. About 70 species listed included information on cultivation and Aboriginal use.

Before heading out to buy, it's important to know how to choose a healthy and appropriate plant for your needs:
Buying Australian Plants - A consumers' guide.

Useful Links

For all regions of Australia, Create a garden takes you through 6 steps to find out 'which plants best suit your area and which birds, butterflies and animals you can attract.' You can even map out your garden on-line!

Our Indigenous Garden: an internet webquest on Aboriginal use of native plants is a webquest that explores the use of plants by Aboriginal people across all regions of Australia.

If you have a specific question along the way, try one of the on-line gardening advice sites:

Garden Web: forum for discussion of Australian natives.

Australian Native Plants Society Canberra Region Inc. (formerly Society for Growing Native Plants - SGAP) for information concerning native plants in Canberra.

Australia Plants Online : the online magazine of the Society for Growing Australian Plants

Good Luck! Good Gardening!

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