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127,000 native plants to be sown at Melbourne General Cemetery

22 September 2023
Up close image of a Pycnosorus chrysanthes (Billy button) being planted

As part of the Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust’s (SMCT) horticultural pilot Project Cultivate, Melbourne General Cemetery is being revegetated with 127,000 native grasses, wildflowers and groundcovers, to create a flourishing grassland in the heart of the city.

Sixteen different species of indigenous plants are going into the ground, at a rate of seven plants per square metre. These locally native plants will help to fill gaps, suppress weeds, and create a natural biodiverse environment. As the grassland develops over time, we will see an influx of native insects, lizards, and birds that will start to call the site home, increasing biodiversity at the cemetery.

A person using a hand-held shovel in mulch

SMCT’s horticultural team has consulted with industry experts, local government, and Traditional Owners to develop a planting list for Project Cultivate. The plants have been selected based on the types of species that would have appeared on the site before it was a cemetery, and those which are climate ready and likely to thrive at the site. These hardy plants can tolerate the challenging soil conditions and lack of irrigation at the cemetery and, as they develop, will increase the total groundcover which will also help to mitigate the urban heat island effect of the site.

Mighty mulch

In August we completed a pilot mulching process to kick start Project Cultivate, covering 15% of the cemetery grounds with 1,400 cubic metres of organic mulch.

Thanks to the magnificent nature of mulch and the hard work of our horticultural team, we have already seen a steep increase in soil quality in the areas that have been mulched. Much of the soil at Melbourne General Cemetery was rock hard, clay soil prior to being mulched. This sort of dry, compacted soil is not equipped to sustain plant life without significant intervention. Now that the mulched soil has been left to sit, we can already see improvements in the soil, which will continue to improve over time. The soil is retaining moisture and regulating temperature, and can be dug effectively, which means it is now ready for planting.

A palette of plants being retrieved from outdoor shelving

Pretty plantings

Plant deliveries began arriving on site and are now going into the mulch-improved soil. A planned ‘random’ planting pattern will be adopted to reflect the way a native grassland would naturally develop with plantings divided into three categories -- forms, fillers, and features. Grasses comprise the 'forms and fillers’, which will be larger when matured and will create denser bushes throughout the planting areas. Feature plantings include those with bright and eye-catching flowers that will bloom in time – and will sit towards the ‘front’ of planting areas to draw the eye.

Plantings on site will include:

• Themeda triandra (Kangaroo grass)

• Rytidosperma caespitosum (Wallaby grass)

• Wahlenbergia communis (Tufted bluebell)

• Chrysocephalum semipapposum (Clustered everlastings)

• Pycnosorus chrysanthes (Billy buttons)

• and many more.

SMCT Horticultural Assets Manager Helen Tuton is confident Project Cultivate’s goals are being achieved on site at MGC.

"It’s really important to remember with Project Cultivate that all of the 127,000 plants are plants that we know would have been here before this was a cemetery, when this was a grassland,” Helen said.

“We also know, with our locally native plantings, that they have a better chance of doing well in this space. They’ll cope with the weather, they’ll cope with soil, they’ll cope with the rainfall, and they’ll start to spread their seed to turn this land to as close as its naturalistic state as we can get.”

Project Cultivate at Melbourne General Cemetery is already helping to improve soil quality, which will in turn support an increase in biodiversity and the sustainability of the site, as well as reduce the heat island effect and our reliance on herbicides by suppressing weed growth.

Artist's render of Melbourne General Cemetery in 2025

By the end of this initial phase of the project, 15% of the entire cemetery grounds will have been planted, which is 31% of the suitable Project Cultivate planting areas across the whole site.

Learn more about Project Cultivate and view our fact sheets about the project.

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