‘Let them garden’: call for landlords to help tenants and wildlife flourish | Wildlife

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Landlords have a responsibility to allow renters to garden, a top garden designer has said while exhibiting a “portable” wildlife courtyard at Hampton Court Palace garden festival.

Flatpack raised beds and a portable pond feature in Zoe Claymore’s garden, designed for the Wildlife Trusts, which aims to demonstrate that outdoor furniture can be as easy to move from home to home as the indoor kind.

Many landlords do not allow tenants to make any changes to the garden and instead provide them with a bare outdoor space.

Experts have said this is environmentally unsustainable as gardens are important for wildlife as well as flood and drought prevention.

“In this garden, everything can go with you when you move,” Claymore explained as small skipper butterflies flitted among the strawberry plants.

“For the landlord, it should be the same as a tenant buying their own furniture – you’re buying a bed to sleep in, why not buy a raised bed for plants in the garden? You’re getting a storage bin for inside, why not for outside? You get a sofa, you can buy an outdoor bench, that sort of thing.”

The Renters’ Retreat garden. Photograph: Charles Thody/Wildlife Trusts

She said there was an “indoor-outdoor dichotomy” under which renters were not empowered to make their gardens beautiful and improve them for wildlife.

“We need to have a conversation, because about 50% of people in London rent and it’s similar in other major cities.

“We have a huge biodiversity challenge, so I think we need to have a conversation about what’s the responsibility of the landlord, and I do think we need to start to have a conversation that, if your house is fully furnished, they should also come with compost bins and garden tools. If you’re going to give your tenants cutlery you should give them garden tools.”

The garden designer, who quit her job as a civil servant during the pandemic to work in horticulture, said her garden, called Renters’ Retreat, was inspired by her own experience of renting and feeling unable to plant flowers.

“Renting was a big barrier to me getting into gardening because I had that mental block and I’m trying to show people what I wish I could have seen five, six years ago,” she said.

“The garden is actually based on a courtyard I used to rent; shady, completely barren, nothing in it, with a concrete base.”

The plants in her garden, which won the best get started garden prize at the show, are common to the UK and hardy, meaning they are able to cope with being dug up and moved from home to home.

“They can take a beating essentially. I don’t want to do a garden for novice gardeners with fiddly plants, so the idea is you can see a plant and go to the local garden centre and pick it up.”

Illustration of a portable log garden. Photograph: Wildlife Trusts

Craig Bennett, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, agreed that landlords should let their tenants garden and provide them with the means to do so.

“Of course landlords should make it possible for their tenants to garden, and this garden shows exactly how that can be done,” he said, “One in three households rent in this country, how can we deny them the ability to garden?

“It’s so hard for young people, even middle-aged people, to get on the housing ladder at the moment, you know, how can we deny a whole generation the ability to start developing gardening skills and to enjoy the beauty of it?

“If you’re a landlord, let them garden – it’s that simple. And the more that people can do it in a wildlife friendly way, they’re making a huge contribution to society in the process.”

He said the Wildlife Trusts were trying to encourage their members to garden. “It is one of the easiest, most direct ways for people to connect with nature. It’s important not only for wildlife but for the relationship between people and nature recovery as well.”

Features of the nature-friendly rented garden

  • Log planters: these are low maintenance, easy to pack up and transport, and benefit invertebrates which can live in the gaps.

  • Home composting: good for the environment and reducing food waste, and the compost bin can be taken with you when you move.

  • Raised pond: container ponds are good for renters as they can be moved and do not make a permanent difference to a landlord’s lawn.

  • Rainwater capture: as cities face flooding it is important for gardens to store water. A rainwater capturing system helps the garden grow with less need for watering, and protects a landlord’s property from floods.

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