Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Sustainable Renter 2011 No. 1 #sustainability #renters #foodgardens


I am back - I think, I hope, we'll see.  I have tried to simplify the look of my blog. And, perhaps, there will be a change of tone. Perhaps a bit more reflective, a little less activist.  This is how my life is at the moment - much more reflective, much less activist.  A sign of increasing years. A factor of problematic health.  While I am an admirer of the hermitage and the desert, I am not one to cut myself off from this wonderful world, this creative planet.

I am reflecting this morning on a remark that was made in conversation after Quaker Meeting for Worship last First Day (Sunday) in regard to "growing your own" while living in a unit and that you can't really do it.   This reflection connects with a post I did on my Oz Tucker blog back at the end of 2008 under the heading of The Sustainable Renter

I have downsized.  I am now living - have been in situ for three months -  in a one bedroom unit in the centre of a heavily urbanised Melbourne suburb.  The unit is older - circa 1974 - priced at the lower end of the rental market.  My property manager says that it was a slum.  However, matters have been taken in hand to refurbish the property and install some better tenants.

I looked at flasher, more salubrious units than No. 8.  Even one with a bit of rear garden which could have been brought into production.  However, something kept me coming back to No. 8.  The kitchen was new, bathroom and laundry refurbished.  I like polished wooden floors - but what a pity the landlord didn't authorise a sand and a polish instead of leaving them well worn.  But this did not turn me off. I could live with that.  I'd probably get some rugs in due course.

What won me to No.8 is the fact that it is really a very private one-bedroom cottage.  I am at the end of a strip of eight units. I share no common wall.  I share only a carport which is on one side of my unit and provides distance between my unit and No.7.  On the other side of my unit is another carport.  This carport is of the old Aussie style - concrete slab, four steel posts, and a bit of corrugated iron on top.   Along the length of the unit, there is a path and a strip of lawn and clothes lines at the rear and, in front, driveway but with two semicircles of lawn which have some geraniums growing across the front walls of bedroom and living room.  Between the old carport and the fence is a scrap of lawn - mowed weeds, really - and a conglomeration of greenery (creepers, trees, vines) which forms a veritable bower but which, prior to my arrival, had been neglected and become overgrown and seems to have been used as a place for drunks who left their bottles and associated rubbish behind.  

In case regular readers have not picked up on this, one of my good points as well as one of my bad points is that I can see good things or improvability in just about anything, including human beings! I saw possibilities for me in this unit besides its convenience to the shopping district.


This was part of my beginnings.  The oregano is looking a bit bedraggled at the moment as it always does at this time of year.  As we head into winter, the oregano has one long bad hair day. I get radical and cut it back to billy-o, as days warm I feed it with some compost and it gets back into the lovely lushness you see above. Yes, it is still in the same corrugated iron tub.  Along with the oregano has come mint from a wheelbarrow left behind at the last place - into a gleaned terracotta pot.  It looks beautiful.  I brought an old wheelbarrow, empty, which I filled with potting mix and I have spinach and sage seedlings there ready for transplant. 

Friends are an important part of all this. My friend Belinda turned up with unit-warming presents which included herb seedlings. What a doll! 

Needless to say, pots are the mainstay of the gardening renter.  Successful long-living plants in pots mean that when one moves one hasn't left a lot of work and maintenance behind completely.  The pots fill empty spaces and help to make the new familiar.  Admittedly, not everything is appropriate to pots - but an awful lot of useful plants are. Most precious to me are the herbs - because I love going to the back door with the scissors and getting these tasty additions to my evening meal.  This is a habit I don't want to give up.  

The longstanding companion to my gardening is that other G-word, gleaning.  Irrespective of the attitudes of local government, I glean from footpaths.  I refer to gleaning as the third oldest profession.  Gleaners are mentioned in the Old Testament.  This gives us a tradition and a place in the human community extending much further than local government by-laws.

Most of my pots come from gleaning.  A recent trip through an upmarket Melbourne suburb yielded some lovely, large Italian terracotta pots.  Well pleased with that yield, I can tell you.  The parsley is looking good in a large round, pedestalled pot with a decorative edge while the rocket seems to be well at home in the plainer,  modern, architectural style.  

One of the deficiencies is the battle for sunlight.  However, I am philosophical about this.  Every garden has its own micro-climate that the gardener has to get to understand and come to grips with.  I am digging up along the side fence in the small backyard - a distance of about four or five metres.  I have gleaned some concrete pavers to edge the garden but need a few more - so I will be investigating a couple of recycling centres.  

The old Aussie carport has become the potting-painting shed.  This is where my gleanings reside; where painting and potting happens.  I have plans - but that will wait for another post. 

For the green bower, I have gleaned a cane table with a smoked glass top.  I have discovered that The Big Green Box that sells hardware has a system, within its paint department, that is called MisTints.  Dented cans and tints gone not quite right reside here for reduced prices.  I have some selections which include some decking oil which brought up the cane table a treat - thus preserving it against the weather.  I have a couple of dining chairs with metal legs to sit beside the table.  These are gleanings from quite a few years ago. They will get a repaint - and Vinnies have yielded appropriate cushions to go with the chosen colours from MisTints.  

These are just some of the ways The Sustainable Renter can turn thoughts and yearnings for self-sufficiency into reality.  In the end, it is down to us: our choices, our imaginings; our efforts.  

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