Celebrating Project Cultivate

29 February 2024
ABC Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis believes the groundbreaking initiative is “priceless”.

Celebrating Project Cultivate

Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (SMCT) recently celebrated the ongoing success of Project Cultivate with a gathering of community members, Traditional Owners, and project partners at Melbourne General Cemetery (MGC). Since launching in early 2023, the initiative has transformed the landscape of MGC from barren soil to thriving native ecosystems.

The celebration began with a Welcome to Country from Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Elder Perry Wandin, and community guests welcomed the opportunity to hear presentations from Acting Lord Mayor of The City of Melbourne Nicholas Reece and ABC Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis.

In her opening remarks, SMCT Trust Chair Dr Vanda Fortunato spoke about the importance of Project Cultivate as part of SMCT’s environmental strategy and historical commitment.

“At the heart of our work in Project Cultivate lies a deep-seated respect for community expectations on environment and heritage. Our efforts align with the ethos of sustainability and conservation, ensuring that the historical significance of Melbourne General Cemetery is preserved for us, and future generations.”

Acting Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne Nicholas Reece also stressed the significance of the historical site.

“It’s just a magical place to come and reflect on the history and to reflect on life as well. I do congratulate the Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust for everything you do to maintain this amazing community asset,” he said.

“That's why this project, Project Cultivate, is so important. In many ways, it's helping turn a new page for the Melbourne General Cemetery.”

ABC Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis and SMCT Horticultural Assets Manager Helen Tuton both spoke about Project Cultivate’s great impact on local biodiversity.

Encouraging biodiversity and sustainability

Speaking at the event, the host of ABC Gardening Australia, Costa Georgiadis, was excited about the potential he sees for MGC as space for the natural environment to flourish in Melbourne.

“The pressure on land in our cities is higher than it’s ever been before,” he said.

“With ever diminishing open space, an area of this size is an amazing opportunity for us to rebuild that biodiversity. That potential to change our perception of cemetery landscaping is just priceless.”

Project Cultivate has already made significant progress, with 1,500 cubic metres of organic mulch and 127,000 locally native grasses, wildflowers, and groundcovers placed at MGC over the past year.The results of the work so far are already noticeable – herbicide use across MGC has been reduced by 30% and the ambient air temperatures in planted areas has dropped by 3℃, while beneficial native insects and birds become increasingly active.

“This is an asset for the city that can build biodiversity and be a model for it,” Costa said.

The program is driven by SMCT Horticultural Assets Manager Helen Tuton, who mirrors Costa’s enthusiasm for Project Cultivate’s impact. “This is biodiversity and sustainability in action: it’s meaningful and tangible and encompasses everything we’re about as an organisation,” she said.

“Project Cultivate is genuinely groundbreaking; not just for this space and for SMCT, but it sets a blueprint for all cemeteries across Australia.”

Kangaroo Grass, one of the 19 native plant species now flourishing at MGC.

A distinctly Australian landscape

Project Cultivate has seen the re-introduction of 19 native plant species to the site. These were selected in consultation with industry experts and Traditional Owners and are now thriving in the challenging conditions at MGC. The indigenous grass species are all locally native and once populated the area before it was used as a cemetery.

“To be able to continue regenerating some of Victoria’s grassland habitats is incredibly exciting,” Helen said.

With the successful re-introduction of native plants, the MGC site is beginning to resemble the naturally occurring grassland it used to be. The hardy grasses and wildflowers are not only tolerant of MGC’s clay-filled soil but are actively minimising erosion and improving soil quality.

The new green spaces are also providing a habitat to many native species, including moths, butterflies, beneficial insects, small birds and even blue-tongue lizards.

“The flora and fauna can live and breathe and sing again because the landscape is healing itself,” Costa said.

“This grass here, it knows this landscape. It comes from here. I can sit here and say that is beautiful. That is stunning. That is Australia. That is Melbourne. That is who we are.”

Members of the local community, who have supported Project Cultivate since its earliest stages, enjoyed presentations at the event.

A collaborative effort

The response to Project Cultivate has been overwhelmingly positive – SMCT has welcomed schools, university students, and local community members to education sessions that have supported the program and encouraged interest in the environmental benefits of planting indigenous grassland species. Several community planting days have invited volunteers to contribute to revegetating areas of the cemetery.

To SMCT Chief Operating Officer Con Rodas, the support the community has shown has been key to the project’s success. “From the initial planning stages to the hands-on work of planting, every step has been a collaborative effort,” he said.

“To every individual who has poured their energy into this project, your hard work and patience have not gone unnoticed. Your dedication is the backbone of Project Cultivate's success, transforming Melbourne General Cemetery into a sanctuary of heritage and natural beauty.”

Further planting in a second area of the site is due to commence in May 2024.

Discover Project Cultivate

Project Cultivate aims to improve visitor experiences while enhancing the natural environment of our historical cemetery sites. The project also strives to drive meaningful conversations about sustainability and revegetation, hoping to create a shared vision for the horticultural future of Victorian cemeteries. Learn more about the project

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