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The Impermanent Garden: Tips for Landscaping a Rental Home (Part 1)

A Plain Backyard is a Familiar Sight for Many Rental Homes

Many rental homes have plain yards like the one you see here - and there are a lot of us renters out there. The National Multi Housing Council cited that more than one-third of homes in the U.S. are renter occupied.  

Many rentals have plain backyards like this  

Many rentals have plain backyards like this  

But just because some of us are renters does not mean that we are destined to have a boring an unused backyard.  My small patio became a great place to grow lots of edible herbs to use in the kitchen.  Besides, as I noted in Nature Therapy: Better Living with Plants, we perform, act, and feel better when we have beautiful, verdant surroundings. Yes, it is true that conventional means of landscaping may not be in the cards.  Aside from the cost and time of traditional landscaping, it can be pretty hard to take your new yard with you when moving to a new home.

Try as hard as you might, but there are some types of landscaping you can't take with you to your new home!

Creating the Impermanent, Beautiful Outdoor Space

There are two key elements in transforming your rented home's landscape into a personal sanctuary: an idea of what type of nature brings you joy, and portability .  Here are some ideas for creating a backyard that you will love coming home to.

Fairy Gardens

For those who feel blissful while surrounded by whimsy, a "Fairy Garden" may be  a great choice for you.  These little gardens can be created within numerous types of containers, such as old wheelbarrows, half wine casks, baskets, and traditional pots - or even broken pots as you will see in one of the following images!  What a great way to pair whimsy and re-use of something often considered trash.  Personally, I fell in love with the idea as soon as I saw my first fairy garden.  They can be as easy or complicated as you want, which is great for the quasi-gardener.  One look on Pinterest showed me just how popular these little fantasy spots are.

Something I really love about fairy gardens is the personal touch we can put on the design - as you can see above, you can go as far as your imagination takes you.  If you are interested in building a few of your own, you can get some great tips from HGTV's How to Create a Fairy Garden in a Container, or if you want to go a little simpler, The Inspired Room has a blog about five {5 minute} gardens that is a really great read.

Potted Gardens to Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds

Container gardens that attract butterflies and hummingbirds is another way to really spark up your outdoor living space.  Not only do you get to witness these creatures enjoying the environment that you have put together, but you are also guaranteed dazzlingly colored blooms - since the color is what attracts the lively hummingbirds and butterflies!  The plants listed here are intended for California residents, but there are many sources out on the web for butterfly and hummingbird friendly plants if you live outside of the area.

Butterflies love the Aster's lavender and cream colored blooms

 California Aster -   Symphyotrichum chilense 

The beautiful Aster bloom is a native to the west coast, and is hardy to much of the California climate.  Butterflies in particular are drawn to the lavender and white petals, and bright yellow centers.  The Aster is a perennial flower, and will typically bloom Summer through Fall.  If you stagger the Aster with plants that bloom in the Spring, you can have vibrant color decorating your outdoor space for most of the year!

Growing Aster  in Container Gardens

  • Aster does well in many types of soil, but benefits from an organic fertilizer
  • Moist soil is perfect for these pretty blooms.  Aster is prone to rot, so make sure to watch your watering
  • These pretty blooms love the sun!  Try to make sure they can get direct sunlight for 6-8 hours per day
  • Mulch can be a good addition for the Aster, which helps protect the plant from pests

The Dwarf Checkerbloom's delicate petals are a haven for California butterflies

Dwarf Checkerbloom - Sidalcea malvaeflora 

Checkerblooms are a California native perennial with a Spring to Summer bloom, and would be a good plant to stagger with the Aster.  The Checkerbloom petals range from a light and delicate pink to a more intense deep pink, and have the interesting quality of twisting open in the morning, and closed at night.   California butterflies will flock to this delicate bloom.

Growing Dwarf Checkerbloom in Container Gardens 

  • Checkerbloom does well in many types of soil, but benefits from an organic fertilizer
  • Moist soil is best during the Winter, but the Checkerbloom prefers drier soil during the Summer months
  • Partial shade is best for this bloom
  • A full cutback after the initial flowering is likely to result in a second bloom

The Western Columbine's vibrant red and yellow coloring attract local hummingbirds

Western Columbine - Aquilegia formosa

These beautiful perennials are a native of the west coast, ranging from the southern part of Alaska to Baja California, and the bright red and yellows of the bloom are profoundly enticing to local hummingbirds.  Western Columbines typically bloom from April through August, and will thrive especially well in coastal areas where the air is moist.

Growing Western Columbine in Container Gardens 

  • Columbines will bloom for 3-4 years before they will need to be replaced.  The benefit is that they grow very fast!
  • As Columbines like moist coastal weather, and do best in moist soil and partial shade
  • Once the bloom season for the Columbine has passed, it is best to do a full cutback.  The seeds that drop in the later part of the Summer will bring you new blooms the following year

 Woolly Bluecurl - Trichostema lanatum

The Woolly Bluecurl is one of my personal favorite flowers.  They grow well in larger containers, to heights of four feet, and they require very little care once established.  These curious blue, purple, and lavender flowers are visually interesting, and possess delicate silver, pink, and purple "wool" that looks beautiful in direct sunlight.  The best part of these blooms, however, is the heady fragrance of cedar, lavender, and mint.  Early growth stages for this plant can be a little tough, but the end result is an evergreen bush that has the most incredible blooms from May to August.

Growing Woolly Bluecurl in Container Gardens 

  • Woolly Bluecurl needs full sun and excellent drainage, especially once established.  Standing water can easily rot this plant
  • No fertilizer or re-potting is required after the Woolly is established
  • The Woolly Bluecurl needs no water, especially in the Summer months, making it a drought resistant plant

By having a few containers of plants like the Woolly Bluecurl, Western Columbine, Dwarf Checkerbloom, and California Aster, you can easily transform your rental home's yard into an impermanent garden.  And what is best is that you can take these beautiful plants with you if you choose to move - and then new local birds and butterflies will find themselves lucky to have a new neighbor.  I think it would also be amazing to combine flowers like these with a fairy garden or two -- it would be like transforming your outdoor space into another land!

Next week we will continue this topic, with ideas for edible  impermanent gardens, which can be both beautiful and useful.

I would love to hear what you think about these ideas, as well as any ways you have created your own impermanent gardens.  Is there anything in particular that you really loved? 

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