Mo­bile gar­dens

You don’t have to be a home­owner to be a gar­dener. ARNO KING has plenty of ideas for cre­at­ing a lit­tle slice of par­adise that can move with you when you pull up stumps

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

Changes to Aus­tralian home own­er­ship mean that more and more peo­ple who en­joy gar­den­ing are mov­ing into a rental home. I spent decades rent­ing, start­ing from my stu­dent days. A truckload of pot­ted plants, gar­den fur­ni­ture, tools and ac­ces­sories fol­lowed me around the suburbs, and these still grace my gar­den to­day. I was able to cre­ate a gar­den at each lo­ca­tion, hav­ing lots of fun along the way, and gain­ing in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence for sub­se­quent homes.

As we are of­ten re­minded, the most en­joy­able com­po­nent of gar­den­ing is the jour­ney – whether it is watch­ing seeds ger­mi­nat­ing or ar­rang­ing pot plants on the ve­ran­dah. You may live in a high-rise apart­ment with a tiny bal­cony, or a small town­house unit, but there will al­ways be room for a few plants, even if they are in­doors. If you have no gar­den at all, you can al­ways join (or start up) a com­mu­nity gar­den, or be­come a friend of your lo­cal botanic gar­den and en­joy the stim­u­lat­ing so­cial and ed­u­ca­tional as­pects of work­ing as part of a team on some of Aus­tralia’s most im­por­tant pub­lic as­sets.

The sense of im­per­ma­nence that can come from rent­ing, with the pos­si­bil­ity that you might have to move, doesn’t mean you can’t flex those green fin­gers to the max. With the con­sent of your land­lord or prop­erty man­ager, it’s pos­si­ble to un­der­take projects in a rental gar­den. These may in­clude gar­den fur­nish­ing, short-term con­tri­bu­tions (the stuff you take with you) and legacy con­tri­bu­tions (the things you leave be­hind).

gar­den fur­nish­ings

A struc­ture such as an out­door lounge set­ting, pot­ting bench or wa­ter fea­ture im­me­di­ately changes the char­ac­ter of your gar­den and can give decades of plea­sure. In most cases you can take these with you when you move, so it’s worth in­vest­ing in ro­bust, high-qual­ity items that you re­ally love. Con­sider the fol­low­ing:

Dec­o­ra­tive pots One or more beau­ti­ful big ce­ramic or con­crete pots dra­mat­i­cally en­hance a ter­race or quiet seat­ing area in the gar­den. They show­case large, dra­matic plants and re­tain mois­ture for a while, re­duc­ing main­te­nance. I bought my first large pot (a Chi­nese dragon pot) shortly after get­ting my first job in a nurs­ery. Along with many oth­ers, it has fol­lowed me through the suburbs


It’s easy to cre­ate a wel­com­ing nook in a rented gar­den with pots, fold­ing chairs and art­work; this beau­ti­ful metal bird­bath is a strik­ing fea­ture that can be taken with you.

One or more beau­ti­ful big ce­ramic or con­crete pots dra­mat­i­cally en­hance a quiet seat­ing area.

Out­door seat­ing Trial a lounge set­ting or ta­ble and chairs for com­fort, and also con­sider its weight and how easy it will be to dis­as­sem­ble and re­lo­cate. Choos­ing weath­er­proof fur­ni­ture gives you op­tions to lo­cate it un­der cover or in the gar­den.

Wa­ter fea­ture A wa­ter fea­ture at­tracts wildlife and serves as a fo­cal point of the court­yard or gar­den. It might be a large sealed pot, a pre­fab­ri­cated pond or just a sheet of heavy-duty butyl liner placed in a de­pres­sion. Adding fish and wa­terlilies sets the scene, and you might also want to add a pump and some cas­cades. Many ponds have fol­lowed me around for about 30 years, as have the fish, wa­terlilies and lo­tus grow­ing in them. They look like per­ma­nent fix­tures but can be pulled apart and moved quite read­ily.

Art or sculp­ture Works of art can add drama and in­ter­est to the gar­den. Con­sider us­ing large, rel­a­tively light­weight pieces as fo­cal points to ter­mi­nate key vis­tas, pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to how they can be prop­erly se­cured in place.

Gazebo, bush house or green­house Many kit or off-the-shelf struc­tures can be read­ily as­sem­bled and dis­as­sem­bled. These al­low you to dab­ble in prop­a­ga­tion and grow some ex­otic plants, or sim­ply en­joy the space they pro­vide. I have had shade­houses, made from tubu­lar steel with stan­dard­ised join­ers, that are easy to as­sem­ble, mod­ify and re­lo­cate. Shade­cloth is read­ily cut to size and se­cured in place.


With a bit of thought and care­ful plan­ning, a green­house can be as­sem­bled at a rental prop­erty, then taken apart if you move, and a sim­ple ar­bor is also a clever ad­di­tion; an old mir­ror, a tim­ber bench and some rusty gar­den sculp­tures add char­ac­ter and in­ter­est to this in­for­mal gar­den.

short-term con­tri­bu­tions

There are cost-ef­fec­tive con­tri­bu­tions to the gar­den that quickly pro­vide plea­sure. My first rental gar­den project was to plant an­nual bed­ding plants or flow­er­ing plants in gaps be­tween ex­ist­ing plant­ings.

A veg­etable gar­den is an­other great in­vest­ment. Some­times I could re­store the rem­nants of for­mer veg­etable beds, but of­ten it in­volved start­ing from scratch. In­cor­po­rat­ing fer­tiliser and or­ganic mat­ter, such as cof­fee grounds, veg­etable waste, au­tumn leaves or lo­cally sourced ma­nures, is the key to an amaz­ing har­vest, and of­ten

the lat­ter is free for the tak­ing. Sow seed or plant seedlings and you will soon be en­joy­ing your own home-grown pro­duce.

Gar­dens can be de­vel­oped ‘on the smell of an oily rag’. In com­par­i­son to other pur­chases, plants aren’t ex­pen­sive to buy, and as any keen gar­dener knows, other gar­den­ers are only too will­ing to give you cut­tings or di­vi­sions from their gar­dens.

legacy con­tri­bu­tions

There is im­mense plea­sure know­ing that you have con­trib­uted to the long-term im­prove­ment of the en­vi­ron­ment, or the en­joy­ment of oth­ers. You might de­cide to plant some shade trees or an or­chard in your rental gar­den, know­ing that you may never en­joy the fruit of your labours, or you could con­trib­ute to the ren­o­va­tion of a front gar­den or streetscape that is en­joyed by the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

I’ve planted many trees in the gar­dens of prop­er­ties I’ve rented over the years. Some of these gar­dens (along with the houses) have dis­ap­peared, but a few of the trees now grace the sky­line, and they re­mind me of the pos­i­tive im­pacts gar­den­ing can make on a neigh­bour­hood.

seek­ing per­mis­sion

Be­fore get­ting your hands into the soil, it’s best to get ap­proval from the land­lord or prop­erty man­ager. Ide­ally this would oc­cur prior to sign­ing the lease, how­ever if the rental mar­ket in the area is tight, dis­cus­sions might be more ap­pro­pri­ate once you have set­tled in and es­tab­lished a re­la­tion­ship with the land­lord.

Start by fo­cus­ing on main­te­nance, such as keep­ing ex­ist­ing lawns reg­u­larly mown and ex­ist­ing plant­ings main­tained and well fed. You might pro­pose adding plants to fill gaps, pro­vid­ing images of other gar­dens.

you have de­vel­oped. If you’d like to make fur­ther changes, iden­tify pos­si­ble costs and en­thuse the land­lord by pro­vid­ing a well-re­solved pro­posal for your project. Draw a scaled plan of the gar­den so you can make in­formed de­ci­sions and es­ti­mate quan­ti­ties of ma­te­ri­als re­quired. An ae­rial photo of the prop­erty, sourced free on­line, can serve as a base for a de­sign sketch.


It’s im­por­tant to take care of the gar­den when rent­ing, in­clud­ing trim­ming hedges; if the land­lord agrees, you could build raised vegie beds on top of the lawn, then re-turf that sec­tion of lawn when you leave.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, once land­lords see that their as­set is be­ing en­hanced, they are gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of work be­ing done. One land­lord even­tu­ally paid me for the en­joy­able hours I spent ren­o­vat­ing the gar­den and the plants I pur­chased.

Re­mem­ber that gar­den­ing is about the jour­ney, not the out­come. No mat­ter where you live, it is an en­joy­able and ful­fill­ing pas­time. You may need to move one day, but the sat­is­fac­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence you gain will al­most cer­tainly out­weigh any mon­e­tary in­vest­ment, and will set you up for your next gar­den chal­lenge. So, get out there and start hav­ing some fun!

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT This shabby chic lad­der is both prac­ti­cal and at­trac­tive; pot plant hold­ers with hooks are per­fect for small bal­conies; cane fur­ni­ture is light and easy to move; a plant stand pro­vides use­ful nurs­ery space; ter­ra­cotta-coloured plas­tic planters are great for ve­g­ies.

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