Roman is bringing native wildflower gardens back to the city. Here’s why it matters

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun10,2024
On a chilly Autumn morning, a team clears weeds and prunes plants in an inner-city park. But this is no ordinary park with lawns and trees. It’s a wildflower cultural garden at South Eveleigh in Sydney.
And overseeing the work is local First Nations businessman, Roman Deguchi.
“It’s a place where people can feel like they’re going into Country and stepping into the bush a bit,” he says.

“A place like this in an urban area really highlights the unique beauty of indigenous plants,” he says.

Three men stand in a park in front of big trees.

Roman Deguchi (centre) and his team. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“And we take a lot of pride in bringing young people into the garden and showing them the uses and how special some of these plants are.”

Among those special plants, towering Gymea lily stems about to burst into giant red flowers. In fact, Deguchi says nearly every plant in this park tells a story.
“Gymea lily is an iconic local plant and one of my favourites,” he says.

“And it is significant to Aboriginal people because when it’s flowering, it’s whale season and whales are migrating.”

A pathway leads into a parkland lined with green trees.

The cultural park in South Eveleigh. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

Planting wildflowers is a growing trend across Australia. Farmers are turning degraded land into wildflower meadows and some industrial sites are being rehabilitated with native plants.

“Wildflower meadows are common in the United Kingdom and Europe for their great floral displays and also to increase the number of pollinators in urban areas,” Professor Nicholas Williams, an urban ecologist from the University of Melbourne, says.
“But overseas, they tend to use a whole mix of species from all around the world, not just native species. Those species can become quite weedy in Australia. So, we prefer native species to benefit our native biodiversity.”

Pilot projects turning parkland into native wildflower meadows are shooting up across Melbourne. Some spring from seed sown into recycled soil resources, such as soil dug up during construction.

A young man with clippers cuts back a plant in a native garden.

A worker cutting back lomandra in a wildflower garden. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

Williams says as well as boosting biodiversity, getting the wider community involved may help save some species from extinction.

“If you have a higher proportion of native plant species and greater vegetation complexity than we typically get in urban areas, that we have higher biodiversity,” he says.
“So that means the bees, butterflies and birds. The number and diversity of those species will increase if we increase the number of plant species.”
And there are benefits for humans, too.

“Native species can really increase our connection to country as people get to know our native flora,” Williams says.

Two men in grey shirts standing in front of a tree in a parkland.

Roman Deguchi (left) and TJ Speedy Coe. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“There is also an increasing body of research which shows that exposure to nature in this regard can really be restorative to people’s mental health benefits and help them cope with the pressures of urbanisation.

“And when people care for their local environment, they are more likely to be concerned about national or global conservation issues. So, being able to experience local nature will also help people think about those bigger global conservation questions.”

That’s certainly true for Deguchi, who grew up around Sydney’s Redfern.

A man in a grey t-shirt stands in bushland gardens.

Roman Deguchi in the cultural garden. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“I’ve come from Stolen Generations. So, my grandfather was taken as a baby. He grew up as a Fijian man and found out later in life that he was Aboriginal.

“My dad passed away when I was a young person and that was a rude shock for me. So, my grandfather really raised me.
“Later, I fell into landscaping and horticulture through a local council and it really took my interest and it really sparked my passion.
“It was a turning point for me because not knowing a lot about my identity and culture, I really think as a young man learning about the plants and native animals helped me understand myself.”

Deguchi turned his passion into a business, starting Wildflower Gardens for Good three years ago with a close friend. It has since secured various commercial contracts.

“We have a big project with Sydney University and that is a really exciting one. We have more work coming up with Sydney Airport and that is also a really important partnership. And we have some work coming up with Woolworths.”
As the wildflower business expands it creates jobs for local youth. Deguchi has so far hired 20 young Aboriginal workers, including 19-year-old ‘TJ’ Speedy Coe.
“To be able to put native plants back into the gardens around where I am from. Yeah, it’s no better feeling,” he says.

“It makes me feel proud because I am Aboriginal myself and, being from Redfern and Waterloo, being able to work around the areas that I grew up in and having a full-time job, it’s something special for not just me, but a lot of boys and girls around the community as well.”

A man in a black T-shirt stands in a garden.

TJ Speedy Coe at the cultural gardens. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

Deguchi is proud to have offered TJ his first job, straight from school.

“He is still young but at times he has the maturity of a 35-year-old,” he says.
“He’s full of life, he’s full of charisma. And having people like TJ leading the way for us is where it’s at.”
For many young workers, a full-time job in a culturally safe environment helps build skills and confidence. Tom Edwards is 21 and proud to be learning on the job.

“School wasn’t really for me. I left at an early age and I was in and out of jobs. This is the longest job I’ve held. Been here for about two, two and a half years,” Edwards says.

A man in a T-shirt standing in a native garden.

Tom Edwards at the cultural gardens. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“Eventually down the track, I would like to start my own business and get more young kids from the area into jobs.”

Deguchi says success for him means giving back to the extended local family that helped raise him as a teenager.
“I am doing my bit. In many ways, I feel indebted to the community because when I was a young man, they really brought me in,” he says.
“For Aboriginal people living in the inner city, there are still a lot of barriers when it comes to joining the workforce. And I think for too long our people have been sort of left out of that economic conversation.

“So we really hope to change that, and provide financial freedom for our young people. With money in their pocket, they can travel, buy a car, and do things that a lot of people take for granted.”

A man in a t-shirt standing in front of native plants.

Roman Deguchi in a native garden with native plants. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

As well as supporting a new generation and caring for the land, Deguchi says wildflower gardens help to build respect for Australia’s native bushland and its bounty.

“When you think about Reconciliation Week, for us, a place like this is a source of pride. It is a place where reconciliation can happen,” he says.
“It is a place where the wider community can start to understand the beauty and the knowledge that exists in Aboriginal culture and history.
“And as we all know that there are disadvantaged communities everywhere, the ultimate dream is to see this as a model that can be translated right across Australia.”

Reconciliation Week is celebrated from 27 May to 3 June

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Roman is bringing native wildflower gardens back to the city. Here’s why it matters”
  1. I think Roman Deguchi’s initiative to bring native wildflower gardens back to the city is truly commendable. It’s essential to preserve and showcase the unique beauty of indigenous plants, especially in urban areas. The cultural significance of the plants and the educational aspect for young people make this project even more valuable. I believe more efforts like this will not only enhance the aesthetics of our cities but also contribute to environmental sustainability.

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