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How to garden when you rent: top tips for gardeners who rent

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W

hy garden if you’re renting? It’s not your home, so you’d only be creating value for someone else, right? Well, maybe, but is there a shade of cutting off your nose to spite your face here?

Matthew Pottage is garden curator at RHS Wisley and rents in Fulham with his partner. “We’re the ones who have to look at our garden all day so I decided to start gardening the space, even though we didn’t know how long we’d be there,” he says.

“People often say, ‘I’ll start gardening when I own something,’ but in London that might never happen, and for all of that time you have space you could be learning and experimenting in.”

In his new book, How to Garden When You Rent, Pottage offers advice gleaned from a decade of renting and gardening in London. Here are some of his top tips for green-fingered renters:

Containers are your friend

Your landlord may be uneasy about you making semi-permanent changes to the garden, and you may want to take your plants with you when you leave.

Pottage suggests choosing a few large structural specimens to begin with, such as palms if you’ve got a fairly sunny spot or ferns for shadier areas. Fill in the gaps with small and medium pots and choose a focal point for your display.

Best plants for short tenancies

If you are looking for quick colour, Pottage suggests cheap and cheerful annual bedding plants such as petunias and begonias. They are easy to plant, widely available and look good instantly. Keep them watered and remove finished flowers regularly to keep them blooming.

Matthew Pottage’s book helps renters turn their black thumbs green

/ Matthew Pottage

If you’re staying for a while, Pottage suggests growing your own annuals from seed as a cost-effective alternative to buying bedding.

He suggests classics such as cosmos and nasturtium, as well as less common annuals including the climber Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata) or the spider flower (Cleome hassleriana). Starting soon in spring, they will provide a display until November in London.

If you’ve secured a longer let

Quick-to-bulk perennial plants are great if you are going to be renting for longer, says Pottage. Plants such as Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and red-hot pokers (Kniphofia) put on bigger and better displays each year.

They can be divided easily, allowing you to leave some behind and take some with you when you move on. Perennials are best grown in the ground if you have the space, or planted together in large containers.

Matthew Pottage is garden curator at RHS Wisley and rents in Fulham

/ Matthew Pottage

Make sure your landlord is happy for you to garden

Make it easy for them to say yes by explaining what you intend to do in writing. Offer to keep them updated and send photos when you make changes.

As a rule, digging makes landlords uneasy so they probably don’t want you to build a pond or rip up paving. There are lots of ways of working with what you’ve got rather than making big changes.

Don’t take everything with you when you move

Unless you’re leaving on particularly bad terms, it’s nice to leave some plants for the next tenants.

“There is some soil in the garden, where I’ve planted a tree and some small shrubs which we will leave if we move,” says Pottage. He says he has spent about £100 on the plants he wouldn’t take with him.

“I think it’s very mean-spirited to dig everything up when you leave. It’s like moving house and taking the light bulbs,” he says.

But if you’ve been unfairly evicted, you may decide a scorched earth policy is appropriate — no judgement.

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