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
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).
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
ABOVE AND RIGHT
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.
ABOVE AND LEFT
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.
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.
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.
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.