Even if you don't own your home, you can have a wonderful garden of your own. Renters don't have as many options as homeowners might, but they can still have a lot of fun.
No matter where you live, a well-cared-for garden sets a good example for the neighborhood, and most landlords are delighted to have tenants interested in keeping the place spruced up and attractive. But is it OK to dig holes in a yard you don't own? Before you grab a spade, you should probably have a conversation with your landlord.
For this conversation, a quick garden plan -- or even pictures from magazines -- might be very compelling. Let the landlord know your plan to make the most of what is already there. If your rental property has trees on it, don't propose a sunny garden that would require major tree work (and would introduce the question of who should do the job or pay for it). Plan a shade garden, instead, with hostas and other shade-loving plants in pots or in the ground. In sunny gardens, there are lots of easy plants for your rental garden paradise. Reblooming day lilies are one good choice. They're easy to grow, and they bloom off and on all summer: The small plants you set out this year will double in size -- and in the number of blooms -- by next year. If you move, you can divide the plants, leaving some as your horticultural legacy to the next tenant.
Flowerpots and planters are the renter's natural allies. A pot on the front porch adds a cheerful note and doesn't require digging. Pots can be planted with cheerful annual flowers, or you could try shrubs in pots. A potted rose or hydrangea will look beautiful the moment you finish planting, and these shrubs are easy to take care of. For extra color, you could find space for a six-pack of annual flowers around the edge of the pot. Simple plantings, with just one or two plants in a pot, aren't a compromise; they're streamlined and stylish.
When you're designing your rental property garden, think of the garden spaces as you would a comfortable room in the house. You need a place to sit, a table, some lighting, and perhaps some colorful accents. If you can, invest in great garden furniture. You can take it with you, and it will look good wherever you go. A pleasing coffee table can be put together with a large, beautiful fieldstone raised on cinder blocks. The raw materials are available at building and garden supply stores.
Being outside in the evening is one of the great pleasures of a garden, and lighting the garden is a snap with classic bistro lights. The lights can be strung along the eaves, wound around tree limbs or hung on a trellis or an arbor from a garden shop. Support the structure with patio blocks (available at builder's supply stores) or in big flowerpots filled with cement.
Habitat for Humanity's ReStores sell gently used building materials and accessories, and you never know what you'll find when you stop by. If you keep an eye on your local ReStore, you might find kitchen counters or cupboards with the potential to serve as a potting station, an outdoor kitchen or a backyard bar. An old door makes a great tabletop. A pair of shutters, given a fresh coat of paint, has all kinds of potential: Use them to make handy shelves, or put several shutters together to create a privacy screen. If you need inspiration, borrow ideas from Pinterest and make them your own. Salvaged materials can lend great style and comfort to an otherwise uninspired garden space.
Embrace the space. Plant it with flowers and vegetables, either in the ground or in pots, and give it style with great-looking furniture and subtle lighting. We all may be moving on someday, but that's no reason to postpone having a good time outside in a pretty garden setting right now.
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at firstname.lastname@example.org.)