Behind the scenes of Project Cultivate

01 February 2023
Helen Tuton + Mulch at Melbourne General Cemetery

Project Cultivate is our pilot project at Melbourne General Cemetery focusing on enhancing the horticultural elements of our historic sites. We sat down with Horticulture Assets Manager Helen Tuton, who works closely on the project, to talk all things Project Cultivate.

What is the aim of Project Cultivate?

Project Cultivate has so many aims that are all interlinked and interwoven that this is a bit of a tough one to answer. Ultimately, Project Cultivate aims to a develop a native grassland at Melbourne General Cemetery. Something of its kind is becoming rarer and rarer in Victoria today, so we have a unique opportunity to create and protect a large-scale endangered ecosystem in the heart of the city for all to enjoy.

While this is great on its own, Project Cultivate also has so many other benefits, all of which form part of the goal of this pilot program. We are aiming to develop a self-sustaining ecosystem that will support a range of things including: an increase in biodiversity, a reduction in run-off and erosion, reduction in the urban heat-island effect of this site, and a big one – a reduced reliance on herbicide to manage invasive weed species.

What stages are involved?

Aside from the large amount of background work that has already occurred to get this pilot program off and running, the on-ground works are pretty straightforward! Our contractors are currently onsite at MGC applying mulch to within our designated project areas, which will take an estimated 3 months. Once this has been completed, they will return to the first areas mulched, and undertake the planting. All going well, the first phase of Project Cultivate should be completed by late October 2023.

How many plants will be included? Can you provide some examples of plants?

This first phase of Project Cultivate will look to plant 127,000 locally native grasses, wildflowers, and groundcovers, which is a massive number! There are around 16 different species of plants being installed, all of which are indigenous to this area, and would have existed on this site pre-contact. We are planting quite densely, about 7 plants per square meter. This replicates what would occur naturally in a grassland environment like this. Over time, these plants will spread, seed and recruit – filling gaps, suppressing weeds, and supporting natural habitats.

Some of the species we are planting may be familiar to people. Themeda traindra or Kangaroo Grass is widespread across Victoria and is an iconic grassland fixture. We have varieties of Wallaby Grasses (Rytidosperma sp.) being planted, as well as some really pretty indigenous wildflowers, including Tufted Bluebell (Wahlenbergia communis), Clustered everlastings (Chrysocephalum semipapposum) and the show-stopping (and beneficial insect attracting) Golden Billy Buttons (Pycnosorus chrysanthe).

Can you describe the scale of the project?

This pilot program covers 66,783.50m2 of the site, which represents about 15.5% of the total cemetery space (430,000m2). In addition to the 127,000 plants going into the ground, there is 1,400m3 of tree loppers mulch being spread. That’s enough to cover the entire playing surface of the MCG with 7cm of mulch or, as my contractors know all too well, 14,000 wheelbarrow loads!

How many people are involved on the grounds?

Boots on the ground are minimal. Our contractors are generally onsite from Monday to Thursday. There are only four of them doing the hard yards! That said, there are a lot more people involved behind the scenes across a range of teams. It’s been an enormous effort to get to this point, but a genuine working example of the SMCT OneTeam philosophy.

What’s your favourite aspect of the project?

I’m pretty jazzed about the whole thing, but I think my favourite aspect has been the genuine excitement, gratitude and engagement in the project and the outcomes from external stakeholders. Whether it be the local community, industry experts, local councils, Holders of Rights, or the Traditional Owners (Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung), the support for Project Cultivate has been overwhelmingly positive. People are really engaged, keen to learn more about what we are doing and why, and excited to see the plants establish and our vision begin to flourish.

What surprised you about the project?

While doing mountains of background research for this project I was genuinely surprised to find that, as far as I can tell, this is the first time a project like this and on this scale has been undertaken at any cemetery site in Australia. For me, that sets Project Cultivate up as a ground-breaking pilot program (both metaphorically and physically) which is amazing. It really highlights SMCT’s vision and commitment to sustainability, the environment and preserving our special places both now and into the future.

What have you enjoyed most so far?

Seeing the vision and possibilities that Chris Hewitt and I shared for our historic sites come to fruition and be supported so enthusiastically both internally and externally gives me a big buzz! I can’t wait to see this Project grow!

For more information on Project Cultivate you can visit our project page or contact

Back to Top