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Project Cultivate update

17 November 2023
From gardening groups (pictured) and local residents to students, families and politicians, Project Cultivate’s environmental credentials have resonated with community.


Community gives green thumbs up to sustainable planting at cemetery

Transforming cemeteries into environmentally sustainable community green space is a powerful way to generate a positive impact on our local ecosystem. Project Cultivate is working to convert significant areas of unplanted, compacted clay soil found across Melbourne General Cemetery (MGC) into a flourishing native grassland.

In the lead up to Project Cultivate, we spoke with key stakeholders, including government and Traditional Owners to align plans with community expectations. Research conducted on SMCT’s behalf involved understanding the views of a diverse group of participants including Holders of Right of Interment, cemetery Friends Groups, visitors and locals.

Understanding community expectations through research and engagement

The research found that Project Cultivate aligns seamlessly with the Victorian public’s perceptions of historical cemeteries. Respondents rated the proposed changes an impressive 8.1 out of 9 on average, demonstrating the community’s desire for positive transformation.

  • 60% were satisfied with the overall state of MGC, while many would like to see increased greenery and reduced soil erosion.
  • 66% believed cemeteries should be a “natural space for the conservation of plant and animal life.”
  • 56% recommended the space be used for recreation (eg, relaxation, exercise and dog walking).

Project Cultivate encourages the community to engage with the cemetery in a different way, sparking genuine interest and curiosity in the project and its outcomes. SMCT has conducted planting days and educational opportunities with community, including Princes Hill Primary School, University of Melbourne, and local MPs. The goal is to help facilitate greater community engagement in the project and open consideration of MGC as more than a cemetery – further encouraging its use as a public open space and conservation site for local plants and animals.

Visitors to Open House at Melbourne General Cemetery were keen to discuss and learn more about Project Cultivate, and were impressed with the consideration given to balancing the needs of community with sustainable planting practices.
Visitors to Open House at Melbourne General Cemetery were keen to discuss and learn more about Project Cultivate, and were impressed with the consideration given to balancing the needs of community with sustainable planting practices.

Reflecting community needs for green space

While the primary role of MGC is to offer families and visitors a peaceful space for reflection, it also functions as a Space for passive recreation. According to the research, many locals regularly walk through the cemetery:

  • 71% of commuters use the cemetery as a shortcut/through-route ( to work, university, catch public transport)
  • 52% of commuters are regulars, traversing through the cemetery multiple times a week
  • 45% of commuters use the cemetery to exercise (walking/walking the dog, jogging, running).

Many locals have a strong appreciation for what the cemetery offers them as inner-city residents. It provides a peaceful, tranquil space away from city noise and the bustle of the surrounding park.

Importance of MGC as an historical and heritage site

The research also found that most local respondents take pride in the heritage and history of the cemetery. Almost 9 in 10 people believe cemeteries should be a destination to learn about local history and provide historical walks. Meanwhile 60% feel it should be used as a space to showcase the cultural diversity and heritage of Melbourne.

Measuring our environmental impact

As an organisation whose primary purpose is to care for our community, SMCT also has a responsibility to care for our environment. Through our Environmental Strategy we have established stringent targets ensure we can provide resilient and sustainable services and facilities into the future. Project Cultivate is one of many initiatives in action at SMCT to ensure our activities contribute towards a positive environmental impact.

Mulching milestones

As part of Project Cultivate, we have now laid 1,400 cubic metres of mulch across MGC grounds since the project commenced. The mulch has already improved the soil structure, increasing biological activity and the water holding capacity of the soil.

Before Project Cultivate, soil conditions at MGC were poor, consisting of compacted clay that promoted weed growth and runoff. Since laying the mulch, we’ve seen a significant reduction in soil erosion, run-off and water or mud pooling following rain, facilitating thriving flora and fauna

As of 30 October 2023, we’ve installed 120,000 plants, representing 95% of the total initial planting area. In the mulched soils and planted areas, we’re now seeing beneficial biological activity including worms, soil borne insects and beneficial fungi within the top layers of the soil. 19 indigenous plant species have been introduced to the mulched areas.

Insect activity is also visible across planted areas, as are birds utilising grassy plants as nesting material and feeding sites. There has been a reduction in ambient temperatures in mulched areas compared to un-mulched areas. We are still measuring, but we’re seeing reductions of around 3 degrees along with fewer temperature fluctuations. This is key to facilitating healthier, happier plants, and playing a role in reducing the urban heat island effect.

Project Cultivate plants established and thriving at Melbourne General Cemetery.
Project Cultivate plants established and thriving at Melbourne General Cemetery.

Reducing water and herbicide use

Laying organic mulch has also improved water retention from rainfall on-site, as well as minimising weed growth. So far, we have reduced our herbicide usage across the MGC site by 30%, representing a significant saving in terms of cost and resources, as well as a massive win for the environment.

Only minimal spot spraying and hand-weeding has been necessary while plants establish.

Learn more about Project Cultivate

Project Cultivate aims to enhance 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. Find out more about the project here.

Further community planting days will take place as part of the project. Contact community@smct.org.au to register your interest.

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