Megan Boazman lives on Barcom Avenue in Darlinghurst, was one of a group of neighbours who combined to get a large, self-funded garden project off the ground.
Megan project-managed the grand design that spans the front of almost a dozen terrace houses in Darlinghurst and has changed the street – and community – for the better. I spoke to her about how the neighbours of 55-77 Barcom Gardens went about this epic transformation: from neglected city eyesore to wildlife garden.
Megan, what was the garden like before the renovation?
It was in a terrible state of disrepair! It was full of mosquitos, derelict and very steep. None of the neighbours ever used their front door, as the stairs down to the street were hazardous. Instead, we all used the rear lane to access our properties, so we didn’t often meet. Then some of the trees fell down in 2011. In 2012, my neighbour Adam and I met and discussed getting all the owners of the terrace houses together to see we could get our neighbours to commit to funding a new garden.
Did you know your neighbours?
I knew a few of them but certainly, not all. Adam and I wrote a little note to everyone and popped it through their letterboxes. Then we knocked on their doors to invite them to the first meeting. There must have been 14 people sat around our neighbours’, Sue and Mick’s, lovely kitchen table, as the wine flowed. Adam and I had already commissioned a landscape architect to put together some ideas to sell the vision to everyone. We found we all had similar values, and there was a desire as a group to do something. However, we had to get an agreement on what were the upper limits of what everyone wanted to spend. We budgeted $20,000 per house, and there were 12 dwellings. It wasn’t a lean budget, but it wasn’t an overly generous one either when you consider the size and steepness of the land. While everyone was agreement, some people needed to save up for the project. Most importantly, we wanted to get an agreement on what everyone wanted out of it.
How you made that happen is an entirely different story!
Adam drew up legal contracts for everyone to have some level of comfort. Adam and I just kept persevering. It was very much a case of trial and error. It took months to get a design that generally everyone thought was a good idea. Then we got tenders for the construction. Adam and I kept everyone informed until we felt as if we had a workable solution within a budget that met the limit, but with a contingency in place. We eventually settled on Andrew Rowlands from Rowlands Landscape because he had such a passion for bringing wildlife back into the inner city. We talked about how the garden would act as a green lung and breathe life again into our street attracting birds. Andrew also worked in close quarters with Lloyd, a stone mason. Restoring the original steps were going to be a significant part of the project. The whole process eventually took six years!
So when did work finally start?
Work began in February 2018 with the clearing of the site. We decided to take a long term sustainable approach to the garden rather than seeking a short term solution. We followed the advice of professionals, in terms of compliance and design. It was a good process, but it was also very challenging. We suffered some setbacks as there was a complaint that we weren’t following the building codes concerning the stairs. The complaint triggered more work and putting in retaining walls. We had to increase the budget or scale back the work. The owners agreed to put in another $2000. The steps were made of sandstone and built in the 1800s. They’d been covered in concrete at some point. It took months of Lloyd chipping away at the concrete to reveal the beautiful steps, which then had to be made even. The clearing, building and planting took over a year.
Is everybody happy with the results?
Everyone is thrilled! We now use our front doors, all of the time. One of the ladies always wanted a Frangipani tree, and now she has one in her front garden. Another neighbour isn’t well, and it is the first time that she has been able to park her car in the street and walk up the stairs because they’re now even, and there is a handrail. The best part is that now we all know each other and have regular catch ups on the terrace we’ve created as the kids and the dogs play. It has completely transformed living here, as we now know and support each other. It’s just lovely.