Thursday, March 15, 2012

Putting Down Roots

Those of us who are gardeners at heart have trouble as roots-challenged renters.  The desire to put down roots – literally – is a bubbling, overflowing, cannot-be-contained fountain for some of us.  We have to be planting something. Have to. It is possible to have a gardener’s heart, put down roots and live in a rental. Especially now, with spring here, I need to have my fingers in the dirt, poking in little seeds, planning and dreaming and looking forward to blooms and fresh food to eat.

How  can we put our touch on plants that aren’t our own, or how can we fill a rental with plants that satisfy our gardening needs? Containers filled with plants are an obvious choice, but there are other options.  I like to think of plants as investments- this plant will be there, continuing to produce and share its beauty long after I have moved on. A hollyhock, for example, once established, will be there for years to come through its offspring, growing tall and blooming with very little care.

Each rental scenario is different.  Here, our landlord pays for blow-and-go gardeners. They storm through once a week, doing all the basics of mowing and trimming the edges of the ivy and blowing the dust and pine needles off the patio, keeping the basic maintenance under control. I am pretty much limited to pots because of their tromping feet and noisy cutting and blowing machines. In the few spots I have put roots in the dirt, I have to mark the spot and place pots around them for boundaries. By keeping plants in pots I can decorate our yard with color, and keep them out of the gardeners way. 
these pink wave petunias show up in the satellite photo of the house

At one rental, the owners loved to have me plant and grow.  The renters before us had destroyed the yard with hulks of old cars and broken machinery.  Even after we had been there a few years, weird pieces of metal would re-surface from the underworlds. I love these before and after photos – they remind me and encourage me to work with what I have, use what is available, and make the best of any yard or patio or ground space I have. My desire is to leave each house better than we found it.
when we moved in


Most of our houses have not had such dramatic changes.  Mostly, I have pots on the porch or patio, or narrow beds along the house stuffed with flowers or vegetables, or, in the houses with snowy, cold climates, potted plants in the house.  Each house has its unique opportunities of shade and sun, abundant or limited space, and at each house I have found something to plant, to satisfy my need to put down roots.

When it comes time to move, I can be quite emotional about leaving these living things behind for someone else to (hopefully) care for. I admit to shedding tears over plants that had to be left behind.  To this day, I wonder if the matilija poppies I started at that one house are growing or if they were mowed down.  Did the Mexican primrose spread along that driveway?  Did the flax seeds ever flourish on that hill? Did that baby Cottonwood tree ever start to grow? One previous neighbor we hear from occasionally.  They enjoy the hollyhocks that spread in to their yard and up a small slope, blooming for them each year. Encouraging news, and a challenge to continue investing in the beauty of plants, no matter where we live, even without roots of ownership. 

Because, really, we are all temporary travelers here.


  1. Except for a few hanging pots and containers on the porch I've not done much gardening. And I feel a little ashamed of myself because I should/could have. I love your photos and admire the way you put down roots :) Just beautiful. And as always you inspire creative thought.

    1. Gardening, planting, growing is an obsession for me, admittedly. The guys attempt to steer me away from nurseries and garden centers. I've learned to just look, and run my fingers along the plants without having to buy anything (usually).