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Rental Gardening

Photo by Sarah Hardgrave

Clockwise from above left: Sarah’s happy raddish face; Sarah’s productive rental garden with raised beds, removabale water tanks and bathtub; Converted lawn in Sam and Patrick’s Preston house. Following

Photo by Sarah Hardgrave
Photo by Samantha Allemann

Home ownership has long been considered the Great Australian Dream. One aspect of this dream is the freedom to develop and tend to a garden, for many years of creative expression and fulfilment. Yet census data reveals a slow but steady trend away from home ownership and towards renting.

Many renters face a lack of long-term stability which makes it hard to create a thriving garden. But why should renters have to forgo the joys of gardens that flourish with the abundance of home-grown delights?

The reality is, if you have a bit of space and a spot that receives a good patch of sun during the day, there is no reason why you can’t have a pumping and productive garden.


Don’t put in more effort than your lease is long

Consider doing an informal cost-benefit analysis between the time and money spent, compared with the space available, plus the risk that the lease may be terminated after a year or two. You may not want to go to the effort of digging up a big lawn and spending money to import soil if it’s possible or likely that you don’t have a long-term lease. Check for any building plans on the house before applying for it.

Pots are more convenient, but more expensive too

While pots will last you a lifetime, pot gardening can be expensive if you want to do a decent amount of growing. This is especially the case if you are buying organic potting mix and compost in 25 L bags to fill them. If you’re buying cheaper potting mix and using standard black pots, the soil can get very hydrophobic from heat and become poor quality, even after you add in your own compost.

Keep in mind that containers usually need more frequent watering than garden beds. Setting up a drip irrigation system with individual drippers to each pot allows control of how much water gets into each. Also drip irrigation can be picked up and taken with you when you move; all the bits and pieces can be easily cut and readjusted with a few new fittings where required.

Grouping containers together makes watering easier, and sitting them on pallets can reduce weeds (like couch grass) creeping up from below, making for a tidier set up.

Grow what is most useful

If you take the time to do the cost-benefit/risk analysis thinking, you can then work out how to grow crops that you use most often.

Two handy crops come to mind. The first is silverbeet, because it grows all year round, is hardy, you can use it in lots of dishes, and can grow it in pots close to your kitchen for easy picking. The other is garlic. It takes ages to grow but is worthwhile because it’s so expensive to buy it organic.

Have a look at what other crops are expensive to buy organic and which you will use often. Prioritise these, given the limited space and resources you have as a renter gardener. Maybe leave corn growing to farmers and prioritise growing herbs instead.

If you’re a beginner gardener or have limited time, consider investing in easy to grow vegies rather than ones prone to attracting pests.

Grow your community

In rental units, dig up the shared lawn space and make a communal garden. This not only gives you food but it brings the residents together in a shared space.

Think creatively

You can have a heap of fun being creative and embracing the challenges of rental living. Rather than buying a permanent water tank for instance, convert wheelie bins into water tanks, connecting pipes to the gutter and other surface run-off. You could make hessian vertical gardens which can be easily transported when you move. An advantage of pots is that they can be moved around according to the sun and seasons, and can be easily shaded in summer or covered with plastic.

Consider weather and soil conditions when looking at areas to move to

Some areas have hydrophobic and depleted soil that would be tricky to grow in, others have no sun. If you’re considering a long-term lease, keep these factors in mind and talk to knowledgeable locals if you can.

As with any property or garden, consider any sun-obstructing buildings or trees, the direction the space faces and the amount of sunlight that the area will receive at different times of the year.

Be upfront

It’s best to be upfront with your landlord and agent so that you’re in agreement as to what can be done with the property. Write a cover letter stating your desire to create a vegie garden. That can turn off some landlords, but it can attract others. Some property ads say that a gardener is included in the cost of rent; you can ask if you can take care of the garden yourself and get a cheaper rate.

So if you’re wondering whether gardening is a worthwhile and affordable pursuit as a renter, the answer is a resounding yes! You may have grand visions, but starting small is best. David Holmgren’s first principle of permaculture design is to ‘observe and interact’. Take the time to observe the conditions of your site, and get amongst it. While there are constraints to renting, whether in the city or country, with good planning and a bit of creativity, there is also an abundance of potential.


Photo by Samantha Allemann

When we recently rented an old house in Preston, our landlord gave us free rein to do what we wanted with it. We’d been living in poky units up until then and were craving more space so that we could grow our own food. The garden was huge, with overgrown grass and lots of potential.

One and a half years and a few successful harvests later, we received notice to vacate. We’d just meticulously planted our second year’s spring crop and because of lead contamination worries, we’d even imported soil. It was a lot of effort and money for only a few harvests.

In our last two rental properties, we have only done pot growing. We’ve lugged the pots and soil from property to property, recycling them through the compost to revitalise. We’ve taken our three compost bins with us as well.

We grow lots of annual and perennial herbs, silverbeet, chilies, garlic and tomatoes, all of which are in pots.


I live in an old Edwardian-style weatherboard home with a large backyard on a quarter acre block in Melbourne’s inner north. As a long-term sharehouse renter I’ve come to accept the uncertainties that come with not owning my own home. It is a great opportunity to practise, in someone else’s backyard!

Yes, there is the very real possibility that my garden will one day be razed and turned into an apartment block. I think of it like a Buddhist mandala. Working away to create a beautiful art form, just so it can be blown away in a day.

As a long-term renter, I have chosen to plant annuals and short-term perennials in the ground, and keep my prized fruit trees in pots. Currently I stock two dwarf apples, a persimmon, three blueberries, two jujubes, strawberry guava, dwarf Meyer lemon, Tahitian lime, dwarf Meiwa cumquat, and a dwarf macadamia. Water is collected off the roof and stored for reuse onsite in second hand food grade barrels.


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