Just because you don’t own the turf you live on, it doesn’t mean you can’t flex your green thumb — and make a productive and moveable garden.
With the increasing number of people putting off buying a property of their own and staying as tenants longer, there is a growing interest in rental gardening.
Nearly one quarter of Australians rent their home. Some of these like being mortgage free. Others are taking longer to get their foot in the property door because of employment uncertainty, rising deposits or are still in a transient lifestyle.
Landlords mostly welcome tenants who want to grow things on the property they lease, but of course, always best to check with them before you turn the first sod. A few will ask you to return the lawn from the garden beds you made when you leave. Most will be glad of the added appeal and interest you have given their yard. And the impermanence of renting doesn’t mean you leave all your hard work behind when you move on. You can grow just about anything in pots and transportable containers, so if you get your marching orders, you can pick up and go with minimal garden disruption.
Whether you like the aesthetics or the practicalities of growing things, you can get huge satisfaction from the smallest rental garden. Begin with herbs, which are easy, fast growing, compact and a wonderful culinary addition to most dishes. There’s no comparison between eating your own fresh herbs and what you buy at the supermarket. Stick with the basics like parsley, coriander, oregano and basil or if you’re feeling adventurous, go for some lesser used herbs like winter tarragon, the many “savoury’’ species, Vietnamese mint, lemon balm or native peppermint can lift the simplest of dishes.
Herbs prefer sun or part shade and a large pot for more growing space, but those with shallow roots like thyme and oregano do well in strawberry pots.Glazed pots are good because they don’t tend to dry out as fast as porous ones do, but a good drainage hole in the bottom is vital. Terracotta clay is great, but seal the inside with a non-toxic pot sealant, available from most hardware stores.
If you’re short on ground space that gets enough sun, try a vertical herb planter secured or hung in a sheltered warm spot – either fashioned from wooden pallets or a vinyl shoe hanger. Line the pockets with peat or fibre cut from hanging basket liners and remember to put in a few drainage holes.
You can grow a stack of vegetables in pots, too, again depending on your space.If you think you’re limited with just a balcony, think Indira Naidoo, http://www.penguin.com.au/products/9781921382536/edible-balcony
who harvests an abundance of kitchen produce all year round from her sunny veranda plot 13 floors above inner Sydney.
There’s a stack of vegies that grow successfully in containers, like:
1. Salad greens (lettuce, rocket, Mizuna etc)
2. Asian greens (pak choy, bok choy, tatsoi )
3. Spinach (English spinach and silver beet)
4. Roots (radish, beetroot, turnip)
6. Spring onion
7. Bush bean
8. Tomato and Eggplant
Try all types of lettuce including cos, little oak leaf and mignonettes. These greens are really quick growing so you’ll get a high turnover. You can also grow root crops like carrots, radish and beetroot and some of the onion tribe such as shallots, garlic and leeks.
Most nurseries have a wide range of vegetables in stock. Plant rainbow chard close together because they will grow and fill out the pot, to provide a great source of food and a colourful display.
There are lots of dwarf and miniature vegetables suitable for pots, like dwarf beans and miniature broccoli. Small plants like lettuce need a pot at least 20-25 cm deep and about 30cm wide, while more robust tomato and eggplant demand pots 30-40cm deep and 40-50cm wide. It’s a good idea to try the compact varieties that don’t fill the pots so quickly.
Vegies like sunshine, but pick a place protected in hottest part of the day, because pots dry out quickly. Even if sunlight is limited, as on a balcony, you can grow most leafy veg with as little as three hours direct sun a day. But fruiting plants such as lemons, limes, need at least 5-6 hours to perform well. To get the crop cranking, grow them in a quality potting mix and add organic goodies like garden compost, blood and bone, a good pinch of trace element mix ( ie elements like manganese, magnesium, sulphur, iron, boron, copper and zinc. You can buy a bag of Essential Minor Elements from your local garden centre.).When it’s time to replant an old pot, don’t throw the tired potting mix out. Replenish it by taking out about 10 per cent of the old and add fresh compost, rock minerals and blood and bone.
The new dwarf citrus varieties are very productive in pots in the sun. Try Lots a ‘Lemons and Dwarf Eureka and for a small lime, Dwarf Tahitian or one of the Australian native limes. Citrus splitzers are multi-grafted citrus with both lime and lemons (and other combinations) on one plant and are ideal for large pots.
If flowers and shrubs are more your gardening go, think outside the square and put them in containers that give your rental home character, colour and ambience. Just because you don’t own the title deed, doesn’t mean you can’t stamp your place with your personality while you live there. Group pots in clusters to give more interest, alternating texture, hue, size and shape. Hang baskets off tree limbs, or drape and place them in tree forks, in garden beds. Any quirky element that drains can house or support a plant successfully, giving even the most mundane growing specimen verve and distinction.
And remember to put castors or pallets under bigger containers. It allows air to circulate underneath and you can shift them without needing orthopaedic work.