August 14, 2018 at 2:43 pm (Gardening) (, , , , , )

Looking through the archives here (since I haven’t kept up so well in the last two years or more), I realize how much has changed since I first became interested in the movement for seasonal, local real food.  Aside from from some dabblings in container gardening on my porch in Atlanta (where a nuisance mulberry tree changed my mind about scavenging food), I started growing food in earnest in 2007. (See here for my thoughts on organic vs. local food as well as a description of my first season of gardening.)  I’ve moved twice since then, so I know how much work goes into creating a garden and what a shame it is to have to do it all over again when you move to a new place.  But, I also know that moving presents an opportunity for gardeners to get things right from the start with every new property.

When I moved from my 2007 residence, it was in the month of May–a fine time to start a new garden, but it was a pain in the neck moving with all my seed starts.  And, then there was the garlic I had to leave behind…  The previous fall, I had dug up two patches of lawn to install raised bed frames that were given to me.  I filled them with compost and lots of grass clippings from a neighbor’s lawn trimmings bin and replaced the topsoil.  I then planted garlic and put the beds to sleep under a layer of leaves for the winter.  The garlic greens were several inches high when we moved.  Not only did I not get to harvest my first garlic crop (hopefully someone else did and it didn’t go to waste), but I also never got to see how those beds performed.  Maybe they were full of weed seeds from the grass clippings… something I didn’t consider at the time and, fortunately, could avoid when starting future gardens.

We didn’t know how long we’d be in the next house, but I wanted perennials and I had the landlords’ permission to do whatever I wanted with the yard (or so they said when we moved in).  Again, I set about creating new beds and added rhubarb, raspberries, and a tayberry plant to the existing landscaping.  It wasn’t until after the back-breaking labor was done that I discovered the easy way of creating new garden beds–sheet mulching (also called “lasagna” gardening, or simply “no-dig” gardening).

And, think of how great it is, as a perpetually-short-term renter, to get to take over a garden with mature fruit-bearing perennials like berry bushes and asparagus that can take several years to get established…


I started this post over 7 years ago, back when it seemed I would always be a low-income renter in a city whose housing market wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to catch a break, let alone catch up.  Here I am, two-and-a-half years a homeowner (but I had to move back to the Southeastern United States to do it) with gardens I will choose to leave one day on my own terms, not those of landlords and real estate developers… I do still have a soft spot in my heart for the plight of short-term gardeners, those whose desire to root down and grow food is perennially thwarted by the need to move house and move on.

Any garden is a commitment to and a hope for the future, especially the establishment of low-maintenance, long-bearing perennial food crops.  Frequently moving would seem to impede the aspiring gardener.  Who would invest so much time and effort into creating garden beds and building soils they can’t easily move?  Who would plant fruit trees and bushes just to leave them behind?

I propose we rethink our connection to land and plants as temporary stewards instead of owners.  I propose that we think of our contributions to whatever land we temporarily inhabit (by building gardens and establishing food-producing plants) as “paying it forward” to future tenants of that space.  Even now that I live in a home I own, the asparagus, cherry and blueberry bushes, and fruit trees that I plant are not mine forever.  I will sell them with the house, hopefully to someone who appreciates their maturity and productivity as adding value to the property.  As a renter, I contributed my fair share of productive perennials to properties I didn’t own; I hope whoever inhabited them after me appreciated them.  If everyone had this “pay it forward” attitude about transient gardening, it wouldn’t feel so bad leaving plants behind because you could look forward to  inheriting new plants to steward in your new digs.  You’d say ‘goodbye’ to an apple tree and a gooseberry and ‘hello!’ to a pear tree and a kiwi!

How would owners feel about this?  I contend that established gardens would add value to a property, especially as a rental, since renters don’t usually expect to be able to garden.  Going back to the original post, written after moving to a new residence where I had the “landlords’ permission to do whatever I wanted with the yard (or so they said when we moved in),” that proved to be a boondoggle 18 months later when we moved out.  In the end, the landlady was not as cool about the food plants when we left as when we first moved in.  To make a long story short, she called my garden a “hodgepodge of edibles” and claimed it was going to cost her thousands of dollars to put the yard back the way it was before we moved in.  I think she was annoyed that we were moving out much sooner than she had hoped (for which she has herself to blame for renting the basement apartment and our shared backyard to a couple of 19-year-olds and their rottweiler).  To make a long story short, she tried and failed to rent our unit out for another year or so after our departure, but ultimately decided to sell the house instead of play landlord any longer.  Out of curiosity, I snagged a sales flier to see how much they were asking for the house.  To my surprise and amazement, she actually used the “hodgepodge of edibles” as a selling point, advertising that, among other things, the property featured perennial food plants and herbs (which I planted!).  I’d be curious to know if that was her idea to promote the edible landscaping or if it came from the listing agent, who perhaps recognized that mature edible landscaping is an attractive and as-yet unique feature that adds value to a home.


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