Leading women – Holt resident, Jennifer Bardsley starts micro-forest initiative

In March 2021, after hearing a radio interview about Canberra micro-forests springing up in the inner north, Jennifer Bardsley started the Holt Micro-forest initiative. Supported by a number of other keen residents they’ve been visiting potential sites, creating social media accounts and writing grant applications. They will run a crowdfunding campaign in June 2021.

The Climate Factory chats with Jennifer about her busy family life and why she wants to create a micro-forest.

TCF: What’s your day job?
I am currently on maternity leave with our 7 month old baby. I also have a 10 year old and 8 year old son. Family keeps me pretty busy!  When I’m not on leave, I am a public servant working in Information Technology.

TCF: What’s a ‘typical’ day look like for you?
At the moment night and day merge into a blur, we are still up through the night quite a lot with bub. Generally the morning focus is getting the children ready for school, followed by school drop-off, housework, walking the dog, school pick-up, afternoon sport activities, dinner and bed routines. In between that I try to spend some time with family and on writing, books and the micro-forest initiative.

When you are passionate and persistent, so many things are possible.

JENNIFER BARDSLEY



TCF: Why are you passionate about volunteering to create a micro-forest in your suburb?
My family and I love being outdoors. We love being surrounded by nature. It brings such a sense of fun, adventure, happiness and peace. It’s good for our mental and physical health. We are also worried about global warming and threats to biodiversity. We want to play our part in combating climate change and nurturing the natural world around us. 


TCF: What’s a surprising fact about you?
Two of my other passions are writing and martial arts. I have recently published my first children’s book ‘A land of muddy puddles’ and I am assistant instructor at a local Tae Kwon Do club.

TCF: Do you have any words of advice about being a leader? And if people are hesitant to have a go at being a ‘leader’ what would you say to them?
Be the change you want to see in the world. When you’re passionate and persistent, so many things are possible! 

If you want to know was is involved in starting a community micro-forest attend The Climate Factory’s 8 step workshop. Find out more.

Plants with tree guards, surrounded by mown grass and recycled timber bench

The value of a micro-forest

How much does it cost to build a micro-forest?

From a simple accounting point of view, the answer is $500 per square metre. This figure is based on a $40,000 budget and an area of 800 square metres for the Downer pilot project.

However, the value of a community micro-forest can’t be measured solely in dollars spent. It’s value is far higher than its physical assets.

The micro-forest model draws community together with a sense of purpose and empowers them to make change at a neighbourhood scale. As it grows, the micro-forest will store carbon, reduce park temperatures and provide habitat. These can be valued using the System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA).

Shown below are the physical assets separated from the community assets.

Physical assets

The physical assets built over 2020-2021 were:

  • 26 lineal metres of water harvesting trenches
  • 6 square metres of bog
  • 450m2 of shrub beds with enhanced soil planted
  • 1800 native plants
  • Recycled timber bench
The Cole St, Downer park in 2019 prior to building the community micro-forest.

Community assets

The project has activated the local community to take pride in their local park and has resulted in the:

  • Creation of the Downer Parkcare Group
  • 1 formal Community consultation to ensure residents had a say about the future of their local park
  • 1 informal on-site consultation to approve the Landscape Sketch Plan
  • 4 community working bees (all held during Covid19)
  • Additional working bees led by the Downer Parkcare group.

Looking at the cost per square metre doesn’t take into account improvements in community well-being and connectedness. Amit Barkay, volunteer leader of the Downer Parkcare group says,

I like the fact that it brought the community together more than I envisaged, everyone coming to help, kids, young and old. And the fact that the place has changed in a matter of six months. To the point, that two weeks ago there was a couple who just came with a picnic table and glasses and a bottle of wine, to cuddle on the bench just over there. It was absolutely lovely.

Amit Barkay, Downer.
Amit Barkay, volunteer leader of the Downer Parkcare group.

His neighbour, Leah Moore adds,

… there’s been a miraculous transformation. This park used to be quite bare of trees in the middle part here and through the drought got very dry and now we’ve got this flourish of growth and it’s very very green and our communities got behind it. So we’re all in this together. I like that too. I like interacting with my neighbours like that.

Leah Moore, Downer.

Other future benefits (not currently costed) include climate cooling and a reduction in associated energy costs, carbon capture and enhanced biodiversity.

Blue-print for future park development

At the first community consultation locals identified the three most important criteria to be incorporated into the park landscape plan. These were: habitat provision, water harvesting and nature-based play.

In response, The Climate Factory created a Landscape Sketch Plan for the park with the first stage delivered over 2020-21. Nature play elements, like timber bridges, timber logs and ‘cubbies’ were included in stage 2 of the Landscape Plan. Now the community has the opportunity to raise funds to install these elements.

A model for the future

This project demonstrates a new way of regreening public spaces. Rather than competing for government grant money with many other community groups and relying on government timing (often once per year) – projects can be funded via crowdfunding when a community group is ready.

Inspiring others

As well as building a pilot demonstration project that can be replicated, The Climate Factory runs online workshops to teach people about the 8 steps to create a micro-forest. Founder of The Climate Factory, Edwina Robinson says:

The 8 step method can be applied to any community regreening project. You could use this method to create a food forest or a pollinator garden, it doesn’t have to be a micro-forest – the principles and the stages are the same.

EDWINA ROBINSON, FOUNDER, THE CLIMATE FACTORY

When participants enrol for the workshop they receive a 46 page Draft Handbook on the 8 steps to create a micro-forest.

Future income/expenses

Any public asset has future costs associated with its maintenance. However, labour to maintain the space is providing by community volunteers during the first two years of the project. Overall the cost to maintain the micro-forest is low.

  • Voluntary labour from Downer Parkcare conservation group (currently costed by ACT Government around $41/hour) for weeding, mulching and light pruning.
  • Reduction in mowing costs to ACT Government – 450m2 less grass to mow
  • Supply of mulch – currently supplied by the ACT Government for free, and
  • Tree removal – trees are only removed if they pose a risk to the public.

Micro-forest vs Food forest – what’s the difference?

On a 2000 square metre block of land in Moruya, NSW, I’ve been exploring growing different types of vegetation with different purposes. As well as traditional shrub beds, mown grass, vegetable gardens, water harvesting ponds and a large outdoor courtyard I’ve also planted a micro-forest and a Food forest.

In 2019, I coined the term ‘micro-forest’ to refer to a dense area of climate-ready vegetation that cools the landscape, provides habitat and provides hope for the future. I used the term specifically to describe a pilot urban landscape project I was spearheading in Canberra – the Downer micro-forest that would use climate-ready trees – trees, able to cope with a hotter and drier future and provide a cooling space within.

The Federal Labor Member for Canberra, Alicia Payne liked the idea so much that she invited the Molonglo Conservation Group and The Climate Factory to submit a grant application to build a micro-forest in her electorate – hence the Sullivans Ck micro-forest was borne.


The Federal Department of Agriculture describes forests as areas dominated by trees, usually with a single stem and a mature height exceeding two metres and with the potential tree crown covering 20% of the area.


“Native forests are categorised in Australia’s National Forest Inventory​ into eight national forest types named after their key genus or structural form: Acacia, Callitris, Casuarina, Eucalypt, Mangrove, Melaleuca, Rainforest, and Other native forest (which includes a range of minor native forest types that are named after their dominant genera, including Agonis, Atalaya, Banksia, Hakea, Grevillea, Heterodendron, Leptospermum, Lophostemon and Syncarpia).


Across the wide range of rainfall and soil conditions that support forest, most of Australia’s ‘Native forest’ category of forest is dominated by eucalypts (77%) and acacias (8%).”

In our home garden, I’ve planted our front garden into a dense native ‘micro-forest’. My aim was to mimic the look and feel of the undulating heavily vegetated local sand dunes at Moruya Heads. And to create a windbreak filtering hot westerly winds, provide privacy from a busy street and create wildlife habitat.

The micro-forest grew quickly to provide a dense windbreak, privacy screen and wildlife refuge in 3 years.

Using the fast growing local coastal wattle, Acacia longifolia subsp sophorae I quickly established a dense privacy screen and windbreak. Amongst these wattles, I peppered local tree species like Casuarina glauca, Allocasuarina, Callitris rhomboidea, Acacia mearnsii and Acacia fimbriata. The coastal wattle and Acacia mearsnii (Black Wattle) have grown rapidly to at least 4 metres in 3 years, whilst some of the Casuarinas have outstripped the wattles.

Understorey shrubs include, Banksia integrifolia (Coastal Banksia), Leptospermum (Tea Tree), Correa alba, Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’ as well as strappy plants like Dianella and Lomandra. Groundcovers include Myoporum parvifolium, Carpobrotus (Pig Face) and Hardenbergia. Hardenbergia also known as Native sarsparilla and widely cultivated, can grow as a sprawling groundcover or twine up trees and shrubs.

The native groundcover, Dichondra repens (Kidney Weed) makes its presence felt in shadier moister parts of the micro-forest.


A couple of edibles have crept into the micro-forest, a Macadamia (a native of Australian rainforests) and a grafted Avocado (non-native). Time will tell if they bare fruit. And a Grevillea robusta (Silky oak) seedling has self-sown amongst Allocasuarina trees. It’s staying for now.


Not all the plants have survived, the coastal wattles are short-lived – when they grow quickly they tend to die quickly. Cutting them back seems to extend their lives. In dry periods the Casuarinas, Allocasuarinas and Wattles drop leaves adding to leave litter below.


The aim is to make the planting as dense as possible and to avoid bare ground. Local Blue-tongues appreciate my efforts and took up residence in 2018. In November 2019, I spotted my first pair of bumbling metallic green Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa) gathering pollen from Dianella and Westringia flowers.

This Blue-tongue lizard lives in the dense undergrowth of our micro-forest. I was quite surprised when I threw some snails near it and it started eating them and was lucky enough to capture it on video!


Our dense front planting provides a great foraging spot for small birds like Silver Eyes as they cross our block onto other places.


With soil excavated from our site cut, our earthworks contractor, placed soil to look like sand dunes. For every hole I dug for tubestock, I added organics to give plants the best possible start to life.


For its first three years, the micro-forest survived mostly on rainfall and occasional hand watering. Then, the summer of 2019 hit. By the year’s end Moruya had received a paltry 508mm of rain (about 5/8ths) of an ‘average’ year, then firestorms devastasted the Eurobodalla area (burning almost 80% of the landscape).


As a smokey January unravelled I began to question whether I’d made the right choice in planting the micro-forest. It is to the west and if the fires reached us, the front garden would burn like kerosene thrown on a barbie.


My partner and I, discussed hacking the trees off – but then what would we do with all the prunings?


Late in January 2020, the fire reached the town’s fringes, luckily it didn’t penetrate into the urban parts. Since then, I’ve installed a 50m length of drip irrigation pipe to try and keep the micro-forest slightly moist in hot weather. Who knows what this summer will bring.


Being on a large block – 2000 square metres or half an acre, gives me scope for experimenting with landscape ideas. While we grow vegetables and herbs in garden beds, I was attracted by the idea of creating a Food forest.


As the name implies, the main aim of a Food forest is to grow a diverse range of food in a forest-like environment. So while an orchard could be thought of as a highly simplified forest, consisting of fundamentally the over-storey that bears the fruit, a Food forest includes lots of vegetation layers that produce food. Like the micro-forest it includes groundcover layers that cool the soil (and provide habitat), shrubs, grasses, climbers and trees.


In 2019 I chose a spot with good alluvial soil, near our ephemeral creek but hopefully above the floods (fingers crossed). I marked out a 5m x 5m area and allowed the chooks a couple of months to scratch the ground up and fertilise the soil. I also added compost, seaweed and coffee grounds. Our next door neighbour, a market gardener, formed five mounds and furrows with his cultivator.


Like the micro-forest I’ve planted a couple of fast-growing wattles (Acacia floribunda) that will grow quickly and help protect the more sensitive plants. They’ll also drop leaves helping to form a mulch layer and add nitrogen to the soil.


I planted tubestock of the following edible trees into the mounds: 5 carobs, 3 figs, 1 Davidson’s Plum (an edible tree of rainforest) and 1 Mulberry. Shrubs include the Hawaiian Guava (Psidium guajava), Tamarillo (grown from a neighbour’s seed) and Peppino. Understorey plants include Comfrey (not edible but known as a compost accelerant), Raspberry, Eggplants, Capsicum and Lemon Grass and rambling pumpkins and sweet potato. Herbs like parsely and dill have quickly reproduced filling in gaps.


To cover the soil quickly, I introduce the fast growing and tough native bush food, Pigface (the fruits and leaves are edible) and the locally occuring Warrigal greens created a green carpet over the ground. The Warrigal greens are a pioneer plant and if conditions are right will seed prolifically – giving you greens all year round in our area.

The Food forest survived the 200mm of rain we received in February 2020. Planting trees on the mounds probably saved them from being killed by waterlogging.

The Food Forest was just above the flood on Racecourse Creek in February 2020. We received around 200mm of rain over 10 days. The flood took down fences and washed away vegetables in the next door market garden.

Autumn is often a time of abundance. In the foreground is the large-leaved Tamarillo. Pumpkin and Sweet Potato jostle with one another for space.


The biggest maintenance issues, for both the micro-forest and the Food forest is keeping the vigorous grass (Kikuyu) at bay. I’ve almost won the battle with the micro-forest having spent many hours hand weeding its vigorous runners whilst refusing to use herbicides.


Because I have a large garden, I haven’t made spaces within these forests to keep us cool in hot weather – that’s because there’s other spots in the garden, like our micro-oasis adjacent to the house that I’m focusing my efforts on.


However, once the trees grow taller in the food forest and their canopies start to overlap, a small spot for a comfy chair will be the perfect antidote to oppressive heat.