The Modern Edible Town Square

Imagine a modern day town square full of edible plants for the picking - surrounded by cafes, art spaces, market area, community meeting spaces, abundant seating, some sloping grass to relax on, a library and shops. Today I happened across a surprising discovery in the suburbs of Melbourne just like this. Quite unexpected indeed.

The new Ringwood Town Square in suburban Melbourne - full of culinary herbs and flowers.

I was in awe for quite some time taking it all in. There I stood, in the middle of the new Ringwood Town Square - the train station on one side and the newly renovated and expanded Eastland Shopping Centre in the other. The space is full of culinary herbs and hardy edibles such as lemongrass, basil, sage, rosemary, nasturtium, artichoke, lemon verbena, mint, curry plant. Quite a formal design, but at the same time a very relaxed feel with these mass plantings of herbal diversity.

Mass plantings of edible herbs line the walk between the station and the shops - available for the plucking.

The edible gardens create a sensory garden barrier between the cafe and restaurant seating and the passing parade.
I was so impressed, I started taking photos from all different angles.  Perhaps not many people had done this because I was intercepted by the security guard - curious of my activities. I'm not sure what he thought I was doing, but after I gushed about how amazed I was at all the food in the space and how so impressed I was with the changes taking place the town centre where I grew up, he loosened his gaze and smiled.  He admitted that he had never actually eaten any of it, but he did seem genuinely proud of being part of this new public space. I haven't lived here for over two decades, but I have to admit that I feel somewhat proud that the place I grew up has turned into something much more vibrant ....and edible!

I spent my first 20+ years living in the leafy green hills of Ringwood, 25kms from the downtown Melbourne. While it was a calm and natural area where we lived, the hub of Ringwood had always been quite a hard, bland place full of paving, carparks and blank shop walls of the major shopping centre.  This is why I was so surpised.

I went straight home to my parent's house and searched in the internet for information about the design rationale, who looks after it, and whether you can harvest it. Coming from a landscape architecture background, I'm also curious to find out who are the designers of edible public spaces in Melbourne.  I only uncovered a small snippet of promotional information from August in a local newspaper about the Town Square becoming a gastronomical hub and a 'community garden' where people can meet, play, share great food and pick the herbs. Tomorrow I think I need to call the Council and find out more.

While I am delighted to find this space, I also feel that it is a shame that coming across good urban design is a surprise, and that not just the norm.  Hopefully the experience of this town square over time can show that accessible, creative edible spaces can form a central part of primary public space zones in suburbs around the country.

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