In response to COVID-19 and our need to enjoy outdoor spaces in a safe way, the City of Sydney earmarked funds for a public art grant to add life to the city’s underutilised laneways, through the temporary laneway art program.

Along came the ‘Dirt Witches’, a collective of artists and climate activists, whose dream it was to bring nature back to the city. Coming from a visual art and curator background, the Dirt Witches reached out to many green-thumbed contacts to gain expertise and collaborate on their vision for a micro forest in the heart of the city.

Dirt Witches, Barlow Street Forest

What became apparent through many discussions, was that some of our archetypal Aussie plants were at risk of becoming extinct so this knowledge steered the selection of plants, with the hero species being the threatened eastern suburbs banksia scrub. Adding to the richness of biodiversity, pollinator habitats have been installed in the forest with sugarbag native stingless bees.

Eastern suburbs banksia scrub

This collaborative project drew on skills and help from all corners and when Junglefy’s General Manager, Suzie Barnett, was approached by the Dirt Witches, there was an immediate call to arms to see how Junglefy could support the project. Unused planter boxes that had been repatriated from a previous project were donated to the Barlow Street Forest and when onsite, they became instant noticeboards. The repurposed planter boxes are now a message board of information about the project, statistics, plant species and they detail upcoming events and maintenance schedule.

The Dirt Witches and under the guidance of landscaping experts, constructed the layers and the forest was slowly created from the ground up. The perimeter of the garden beds are huge sandstone blocks which double as a seating area for visitors to the forest. The sandstone blocks and advanced banksia trees were craned into the site, along with tonnes of soil, sand and pebbles forming the garden beds for the native plants.

Planter box noticeboard, Barlow Street Forest

The forest draws a small army of volunteers to keep up the watering schedule and ensure the plants thrive in their new home. The investment of support from the community to keep this forest growing shows the impact of how a small patch of nature can provide so many benefits. The forest doubles as a space for small events like music performances and it provides a peaceful respite from the busyness of the city.

The pop-up forest has transformed a once-forgettable laneway into a biophilic showstopper that attracts attention from visitors and passers-by.  Just a little bit of funding and huge amount of creativity and passion has created a vibrant and essential public space for people and urban biodiversity.

Images courtesy of City of Sydney