Friday, June 17, 2011

Renting + Gardening

I'm a gardener. I quit fighting the impulses 6 years ago with my first veggie plot. Every year since I've put some seeds in the ground, and most years see an increase in my total area of cultivated ground. The amount I harvest is pretty substantial as well, my estimates are in the hundreds of pounds, for the past couple of years. I use a variety of spaces, right now those include my front lawn, flower beds in the side lawn, a dozen containers, and a community garden plot.

With all that, some people are surprised when they learn that I'm a renter. I've been renting for longer than I've been gardening, so the gardening habit has formed around that constant. (If you can call moving every year a constant.)

The year with the highest amount of harvest was during the year when we lived in a 1 bedroom basement efficiency with newborn Rowen. I had 3 different community garden plots and planted everything in those. 1 was within walking distance, and the other 2 I drove to once a week. Lack of yard space has never held me back. (Yes, I do realize how lucky I am to live in Iowa where growing things and green spaces and good soil are still the norm.)

Fast forward to this year, and I've dug up large swathes of the yard, put lots of love and attention and perennials into the flower beds and started a community garden that I may never see grow up.

Yea, I am putting in a lot of work for the rental house and our (probably) temporary home town. We're in a stable position right now, we've been here for almost a year and a half now and will likely stay for 3-4 total. I know my family will see some benefit from it. Things like the rhubarb and chives and sage planted last year are already producing tons. I like the thought of leaving a place better than I found it. It's a common philosophy, from Boy Scouts to Burners, (don't go off on tangent about boy scouts, don't go off on tangent about boy scouts...) Somehow, it still surprises people when they see it in practice.

The way I figure it, just because I won't live here forever doesn't mean I should limit my gardening. I was clear about my gardening intentions from the first time we came to look at the house. The landlady is not very garden saavy herself, but has given me pretty free reign to dig as I please. I return that trust by making sure that the flower beds not only look waaay better than how I found them, they will remain pretty long after I leave. (Perennials.)

The habit puts me on good footing with neighbors. Usually with rental places the neighbors are tired of the blighted conditions and respond really well to seeing some work put into making the place nice looking. It's not perfect, I'm not going to buy the expensive perennials or craft a year round blooming masterpiece of a bed, but it looks better. Our house isn't the blight of the neighborhood anymore. The neighbors don't have to cringe when they walk by. That is better PR than anything else I do. They'll forgive our pagan-hippy ways if it means I'll keep fixing up the yard and garden beds.

So, all you renters out there, give it a shot. Call up your landlord or landlady. Invite them over for cookies or tea and explain what you want to plant, where you want to plant it and how you'll handle the transition when you leave. That tiny bit of communication is usually all it takes. Once you start, other gardeners will notice, and bring by thinnings/cuttings from their plants to fill in gaps. I planted 4 of my own plants and was gifted another 6 or 7 in that manner.

Apartment dwellers, don't despair. How much does your manager pay to have the greenspace mowed? Can you reduce that cost for them if you take a quarter of the space and turn it into an apt garden? Make it worth their while in a monetary sense and you'll have a strong ally.

This country has a lot of renters. The numbers are growing. We need to feed themselves just as much as homeowners. If we don't start somewhere, who will?


Jon Lorisen said...

Really enjoyed reading that. Some very good ideas there, makes me ashamed I haven't put in more effort as a renter. I really like the idea of ripping up some lawn at an apartment building (or anywhere), any lawn removal is pretty positive and replacing it with something functional is fantastic. Showing a landlord the cost savings is ingenious.

Developing good relationships with your neighbors is very important too - yet another area for me to improve on *sigh*. Even though I have lived in a little town for years, I still have a "city" mentality (that's just an excuse, I'm just rude, lol) and I don't talk to my neighbors.

Jennie said...

Thanks Jon!
Don't be ashamed, it can be hard to work up the courage to break the ice about this type of thing. It's never on the lease, so you really do have to force the conversation.

I hear ya on the neighbors. There are some I just don't bother with. But the few I can stand, I try to cultivate as positive a relationship as I can. And there's one gal that loves to garden and can, and is a bit paranoid, I might turn her into a survivalist yet. :-D