I’d never considered myself to have much of a green thumb, which is mostly a matter of upbringing, and being a Renter Nomad also made “roots” an implausible and irrelevant thought. However, #houseplants have – deservedly – become a cultural and social-media thing (not that I’m a Millennial or an #Instamum), and I’ve realised that even those in worse conditions are able to keep a plant alive, and so I’ve been experimenting.
The biggest problems for Renter Nomads growing anything (apart from mould) are the obvious: if you’re going to be moved on after six months, or even three years, is it worth gardening, and losing that piece of home, too? Do you even have any outside space? If gardening indoors, is it worth collecting a lot of very heavy plants in pots, which you will have to move, along with the rest of your household?
You may have had to compromise on light and working central heating/decent insulation in order to rent a place you could afford (or rent a place at all). This makes conditions tricky for many plants. Those conditions, particularly the light, could be completely different in the next place you move to.
Here, then, are four principles for making indoor plants a part of your temporary or nomadic household.
(1) Grow “crops.” Growing herbs from seeds or cuttings is a lot cheaper than buying living herbs, and they’ll be in the correct-sized pot from the very beginning. Sprinkling home-grown parsley on your soup is a fine way to get your vitamins in winter! Most importantly for the Renter Nomad, though, these plants are meant to be seasonal. Temporary. Cutting them, then trying another herb in the same pot, is therefore guilt-free. In your nomadic life, these crops are not impermanent, but fresh.
Dill and rocket have grown well for me in an improvised windowsill plot. Cress is the easiest thing to grow, as it sprouts very quickly: available for cropping in days! My son has brought basil from school, and I propagated a few pots before admitting that none of us in the family liked basil, and so we moved on, guilt-free.
Which brings me to:
(2) Share. Plants are the original renewables, so you can share cuttings or seeds with your neighbours, colleagues and fellow school-parents, for a warm green feeling of goodwill. For a renting population, which feels always on the move, literally less rooted in a community than those who own their own homes or who have secure tenancies, this feeling of having something to offer a community can’t be underestimated.
Even the worst outcome – a dead plant – places no burden of waste on your community, as it’s biodegradable! Those who don’t own a square centimetre of property can still care about the earth around them…
(3) Give away. I went to a house-party the other weekend, in which the hosts were preparing to leave the country, and literally farming out their possessions. Another family, which had just moved from a house to a rented flat, gained a transplanted indoor garden, and were very grateful for it! Amusingly, my family was not considered for plants, as the host said that he had seen the state of some of the peace lilies at our house… However, that only illustrates the next principle:
(4) Don’t be over-ambitious. How many suitable places does your house actually have, for growing anything? When my father-in-law brought us probably twenty pots of peace lilies and six Dragon plants (Ikea made this splurge very cheap. Um, thanks.), it was all very lovely to have plants which NASA says will clean the air, but there wasn’t actually space to put all of them in places where they would actually grow! We’ve therefore ended up with some successful plants and a whole lot in the Badlands of our house, which our party-host friend saw. Oops.
By contrast, the plants that I have bought and placed sensibly are very happy indeed, and don’t make me look like a plant-killer! Cactus (no water) and ivy (limited light), are less flashy than orchids, but have lived for me. If you want colour and variety, get cut flowers!
What’s your indoor gardening philosophy?
Related Renter Nomads article: A Renter Nomad’s festive season: be strategic, simple and seasonal