The Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre is a patient services centre in the inner-city suburb of Bayswater. It provides culturally supportive short-term accommodation to Aboriginal patients and carers travelling from regional and remote communities to access specialist medical facilities in the Perth metropolitan area.
Its 1970s premises had seen better days, in particular its exterior landscape overgrown with weeds, littered with debris and bedraggled humdrum species that offered nothing special or inspiring. Although the Centre survived state funding cuts in 2019 that almost forced it into closure, what it needed next was a greener touch of love, something to give both residents and staff a sense of place and belonging.
By the time COVID delays were over, we’d had two years to plan the perfect bushfood garden landscape for the Centre. In 2023, we were ready to take action.
Bushfood garden in a courtyard
BEFORE: The Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre courtyard prior to earthworks and planting.
Our first task was to remove the dishevelled non-native plants that would end up competing for space and nutrients. Then we redistributed the soils to even out the garden beds and make room for mulch and compost. This isn’t always required when planting in a new bushfood garden, but the soil around the Centre had deteriorated over the years and desperately needed plenty of organic matter and natural water-retaining ingredients added.
We chose a rough, coarse, chunky brown wood chip mulch to insulate the soil over the hot summer months as well as the cold winter season. This both protects the roots of young plants while they’re getting established, and helps reduce the environmental stressors on mature plants. Wood chip breaks down slowly, meaning it needs less maintenance over time, and thus places less demand on the Centre’s already stretched budget.
AFTER: The finished garden, featuring native bushfood plants in wood-mulched garden beds plus raised planters for easy access to herbs and veggies.
Over sixty native edible species were planted, chosen for their drought-tolerant “water wise” properties — a key factor in successful West Australian gardens, and an increasingly important consideration with respect to climate change. A mature Finger Lime and Lemon Myrtle were were included to give instant aesthetic and shading effects.
In the middle of the courtyard, we added raised planter beds filled with a variety of exotic herbs and veggies, which are better suited to raised planter spaces, to boost the Centre kitchen’s supply of ingredients. We feel strongly about raised planter beds being anathema to natural bushfood gardens, however they’re an excellent and accessible complement in this type of setup, where a gardener (such as the on-site chef) needs quick and easy access to their produce. Additionally, raised planter beds help prevent exotic species from becoming weeds in native garden beds.
A cultural and community experience
Taking place during Djilba 2023, an ideal time for new native plantings, our planting day coincided with Kiara College’s NAIDOC Week, themed “For the Elders”. Students from the college celebrated by coming along to lend a hand with the day’s efforts. Our founder, Mark Tucek, picked them up from the college in the Centre’s patient transfer bus, and they helped plant out our bushfoods, herbs and veggies.
In attendance was Aboriginal cultural and Bushfood and educator Aunty Dale Tilbrook, a Wardandi Bibbulmun woman and highly respected local Elder from the Margaret River, Busselton, whose father worked with the eponymous Elizabeth Hansen on setting up the Centre in the 1970s. She regaled the students with stories of bushfood plants and local Aboriginal culture, before a morning tea of saltbush sausage rolls, kangaroo pies with bush tomato chutney and quandong chutney relish, lemon myrtle cake, and a macadamia and wattleseed damper, with native ingredients supplied by Tucker Bush Herbs.
While we hadn’t planned on it, this planting day ended up being a cultural community experience, bringing together a local Aboriginal Elder, curious and energetic students, enthusiastic green thumbs from the Perth horticulture industry, Centre staff, and the patients who came out to chat and watch. Overall, this project brought about a remarkable transformation and great collaboration on the day.
Landscaping with Tucker Bush
Many thanks to our pop-up landscaping team for the Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre garden:
Simon Pawley from Sustainable Outdoors, who looked after the lawn removal, earthworks, mulch, and raised planter bed installation and outside landscaping. Previously, we worked with Simon on the Tucker Bush Micro Food Forest displayed at Perth Garden & Outdoor Living Festival 2021.
Aunty Dale Tilbrook from Dale Tilbrook Experiences, who generously shared her knowledge and understanding of bushfoods and Aboriginal Culture, providing an immersive educational experience for the students. We regularly collaborate with Aunty Dale on different projects and assists with education through the Tucker Bush Schools Program.
Sharmain Sands and Chef Steve from Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre. Sharmain organised and facilitated the garden upgrade. Chef Steve prepared the bush tucker morning tea from homegrown ingredients.
Rebecca Garlett and Shaye Rodney from Kiara College, who organised, facilitated and chaperoned the excursion experience.
The students from Kiara College, who tirelessly contributed their efforts, energy and enthusiasm on the day.