Garden of earthy delights

• This vacant block has been transformed into a garden of “useful weeds”.

A ROSE by any other name would smell as sweet, wrote Shakespeare, but could a field of weeds be a beautiful garden?

A group of Perth artists have transformed a cruddy old vacant block in central Fremantle into an ordered garden of weeds to challenge perceptions of worth and draw parallels to displaced people in the community.

Lead artist and DADAA creative producer Chris Williams says Field of the Unwanted was inspired by a wheat field grown in central New York in the 1980s by artist and environmentalist Agnes Denes.

Milk weed

“There was a beautiful notion of seeing a piece of land transformed within an urban area,” he says.

“And we came across this site in Fremantle that was just full of weeds. Somebody said, ‘weeds are just plants that grow where they’re not wanted’ and then someone else said they felt like a bit of a weed, unwanted and displaced. That was the start point for this project. I suppose we are playing with a bit of a metaphor.”

The project is a collaboration between International Art Space’s Know Thy Neighbour, and DADAA’s Green Brigade, with artists responding to and engaging with the urban setting of Fremantle.

“This garden is a reconsideration,” says Williams.

“I want to put forward a question about the value of things.”

The garden’s central location at 8 Queen Victoria St leads to lots of conversations as people pass by.

“Most of them are really positive, but there are some people who have gone; ‘Why are you doing that? You could be growing veggies’,” says Mr Williams. “I do think if we had of done a field full of flowers, because they are aesthetic and pretty there would have never been a question asked at all. We are just growing something that is. The idea is to get people to take a second look, to not assume. It’s about not being so quick to jump.”

Many of the weeds are edible or have medicinal uses.

“There’s blackberry nightshade, those berries are edible, and purslane, that’s great for salads and dips, it’s from the succulent family, really mild in taste,” says Mr Williams.

He reckons fleabane can be used as insecticide, prickly cabbage can be eaten, and milk weed might cure skin cancer and skin lesions.

“Lots of women have been using it for years for sun spots. We’ve also got fennel, amaranth, red clover, dandelion, chickweed. Lots of weeds have really high vitamin content.”

But, not all the weeds are useful.

“Some have absolutely no use,” says Mr Williams. “We tend to them all one and the same.”

In line with the garden’s deeper meaning, many homeless or displaced community members have come to get involved.

by MOLLY SCHMIDT

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