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urora, Vera and Skuli live in a “hotel” at the bottom of Elise Dalley’s yard in Melbourne. Despite the indefinite nature of their one-year lease, Dalley and her non-feathered housemates care for the three chickens in a bounteous edible garden of their own creation.
In Sydney, landscape architect David Whitworth has turned the small backyard of his Chippendale terrace into a well-coiffured miniature jungle. He rents with three others, and the garden is the heart of the home.
Rick Gove mightn’t own his North Bondi rooftop terrace, but that didn’t stop him from investing in the help of top landscape designers to make it something special.
All three households prove that, if the landlord’s on board, there’s no reason renters and house-sharers can’t nurture their own little piece of paradise.
“We were lucky to inherit four wicking beds from the previous tenants,” says Dalley of her freestanding sharehouse in north Melbourne. “We’ve built up garden beds around the perimeter fence, we grow seedlings in small trays under the back patio. For a suburban garden, it’s huge – plenty of room for vegies, herbs, our three chickens, a worm farm, fire pit, my ceramics studio and a little garden shed.”
Whitworth, in Chippendale, doesn’t have the same luxury of space (his garden is less than two metres wide), but he does have the expertise to utilise a small urban area – and the passion to see it through.
“When we moved in seven years ago there was just a clothesline area – nothing in it except slimy brick paving with a couple of years’ worth of leaves piled on top, completely unusable,” says Whitworth.
He decked the “sad concrete” with Ikea timber, also building his own deck atop hardwood pallets, collected off-the-shelf pot plants and hangers to make green walls without drilling holes, and used milk crates and salvaged garden furniture knowing they’d be hidden beneath the plants. “It’s really low tech,” he says, but the ultimate effect is that of a green oasis, onto which the kitchen spills out and in which he can spend hours entertaining, relaxing and breathing in the benefits of plant life. “Out there you feel enveloped.”
Dalley, in Melbourne, is virtually living off the land in the middle of suburbia, and the nine-to-five office worker gladly devotes all her free time to the garden. Since moving in this September, they’ve planted every herb they can think of, plus zucchini, corn, tomatoes, silverbeet, kale, rhubarb, capsicum, eggplant, radish, beetroot and purple cabbage. “The tenants before us put in a bay tree, curry leaf tree and lemongrass, which we gladly inherited!” The garden also has established citrus, apple and stone fruit trees. “Once the fruit is ready, we’ll have a big day of preserving so we’ve got plenty of peaches and plums to get us through next winter. I’m hopeful that come summer, most of our vegies will be sourced from the garden.”
But low maintenance can be rewarding too, says Whitworth in Sydney. “Most of the plants survive off rain – except for the herbs,” he says. “I don’t have anything really deciduous either. I just do a bit of fertilising, repot when they get bigger, snip the odd brown leaf… and all that helps me unwind after a hard day’s work.”
Towards the coast in north Bondi, Gove’s rooftop balcony is more like an outdoor living room than a garden, with panoramic views of Bondi Beach. Gove called on Adam Robinson Design to help him express his eclectic decorating style outside. “Rick recently moved from the States so was very keen to get a lot of Australian natives into the space,” says landscape designer Chanelle Ockenden. “He travels a lot for work, so it was important to keep this in mind when choosing plant species and furniture.”
The restrictions of redesigning a rented or shared space can be easily overcome. “Since Rick is renting this rooftop, we couldn’t change the painted green floor so instead we tried to draw the eye to interesting pot clusters and outdoor rugs.”
In all cases, the landlord or body corporate are not only on board, they are enthusiastic.
Like Whitworth and Dalley, Gove is 100 per cent responsible for the plants. “Rick uses his watering and so on as his zen time in the garden,” explains Ockenden. A thrice-weekly watering is enough for the hardy plant species they chose, and water-friendly self-watering pot plants such as Glowpear and GreenSmart can help when your landlord won’t pay for sprinklers.
“Anything encouraging people to get more plants in their space is a bonus as far as I am concerned,” says Ockenden. Whitworth likes Mr Kitly self-watering pots for their clean design.
For those who have no green thumbs and can’t afford to get the pros in, don’t worry: there’s an app for that! The Plant Life Balance app, part of a wider campaign to promote the proven health benefits of living with plants, lets you visualise your future garden using augmented reality to drag and drop plants over a photo of your space. Its seven inspirational looks in collaboration with The Planthunter includes “Sharehouse Heroes”, which features “tough-as-nails” pot plants that could withstand the wildest of parties. As well as an extensive plant list (see it here), each “look” comes with a raft of helpful hints for those unintentional plant-killers out there.
Moveable pots feature heavily of course, as it’s easy to get attached to your green babies.
While Dalley and her housemates are happy to leave their bed-based garden for future residents to enjoy (while crossing their fingers for an extension to their lease), Whitworth wouldn’t dream of it: “No way! I’m very attached to all of them so they’re coming with me wherever I go.”