The gardens of rented homes get a bit of a rough time. After all, most people don’t want to bother investing too much time or money into a high-maintenance space that they won’t be staying in for particularly long. When you’re renting your home, the garden is usually just somewhere to hang your washing and store your wheelie bins.
But, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that any outdoor space is precious. Besides, you’ve probably made an active decision to rent somewhere with a garden – so why was that? Even in a rented home, your garden can act as an extra room, giving you somewhere to relax with your family, play with your kids or pets, and get a bit of fresh air in private.
So, let me give you a few ways you can spruce up a temporary space – without breaking the bank or upsetting the landlord – in this list of rental garden ideas.
Rental Garden Ideas: The Basics
When you’re renting a home, there’s no guarantee about the condition of the garden when you take ownership. It’s actually incredibly likely that the previous tenants simply haven’t bothered with garden care (especially if they only intended to be living there for a year or so). Even if you take on a garden in relatively good condition, there are a few ways you can start putting your stamp on it for a short-term, low-cost impact.
- Strip it back. Unless the last tenants were mowing and pruning right up to their removals van arriving (unlikely), your rental garden is going to need some basic pruning. Cut back overgrowth, mow the lawn (if there is one), and pull out any major weeds to see what you’re working with.
- Find your focal point. Once the garden is in a workable state, start looking for its best features. Maybe it’s a rustic wall, a pretty tree, or a spacious patio – or perhaps you’ve got some excellent scenery you can borrow from beyond your garden fence. All of your subsequent choices should emphasise and complement this feature.
- Fix the floor. Re-seed areas of patchy grass, give the edging some attention and, at the very least, rent a pressure washer for the patio. Want to do something more exciting with your rental patio? Keep reading…
Rental Garden Ideas for Patios
Patios in any home – not just rented ones – can often become a bit of a catch-all space for garden tools, bits of furniture, outdoor equipment and plants. To really make the most of your garden as its own room, this has to stop. Here are a few tips for transforming your patio into an enviable social spot.
- Clean the patio. Start by pulling up and scraping out any weeds that are creeping up around the edges, then assess the general condition of the patio. If you spot cracks or crumbling, you’ll need to buy some patio cleaner, grab a stiff brush and get scrubbing (sorry)! If it’s in good condition – no loose bits – you can have a bit of fun with a power washer. Congrats!
- Alternatively, if the patio is ugly or beyond cleaning, you can hide it. The fastest, cheapest and easiest way to do this is with an outdoor rug. Outdoor rugs have the added benefit of making your outdoor space immediately look like a living area, and can lend a chilled, bohemian aesthetic. Outdoor rugs are good for balconies or rooftop gardens too, where you need to be conscious of weight.
- If you prefer a more chic look, you could lay a layer of pea gravel. You’ll want some kind of edging to stop the gravel spilling into flower beds or the lawn, and it will need to be raked every so often to keep it looking fresh. Overall it’s a very sleek and contemporary look.
- On the other hand, if all you have is hardscaping and are lacking a lawn entirely, you can make your own. Artificial turf comes at all prices points nowadays, and instantly makes a concrete surface feel more lush. I turfed my balcony last year, and I just wish I’d done it sooner! The roll cost about £20 from Tesco, and I saw the same offer again this year. Keep an eye out!
Sprucing Up Fences in Rental Gardens
Fences usually get the least love in a rental garden, but they can make a huge impact on its overall appearance. Spruce yours up using any (or all) of these methods…
- Give your fence a paint job. A trend-forward colour can make a big statement, but you might need to get your landlord’s permission for something so bold. A warm white, contemporary grey or toasty beige (like Dulux’s colour of 2021, “brave ground”), will look just as fresh, and you’re less likely to be asked to paint over it when you leave. If you can, rent a paint-spray machine to get the job done in half the time (or less).
- Cover your fence with something more attractive, like bamboo mats for a tropical, tiki-style feel, artificial grass for something more edgy, or sophisticated wood panels. Leave the existing fence where it is, and either use u-nails to attach a covering, or install panels in front.
- String lights look really pretty hanging from fences, and will totally steal focus from an otherwise drab wall. Choose solar-powered ones that are rated for outdoor use and you won’t need to worry about bringing them in when it’s raining.
- Grow climbing plants in pots. We’ll talk more about plants and pots in a moment, but it’s worth mentioning now that they do make for a pretty and organic fence covering. Attaching a lightweight trellis to a fence will encourage climbers up and across any areas you want to hide. Keep in mind though: this solution can take a couple of summers to really take hold, and it’s tricky to take established climbers with you when you move.
Plants and Flowers in a Rental Garden
If you’re keen to exercise your green thumb, there are a few ways that you can spend energy and money that won’t be lost if you move. In my experience, landlords generally don’t mind if you start planting a beautifully kept garden (although some of them would no doubt prefer that you don’t start digging things up), but it’s always nice to be able to bring the fruits of your labour with you when you move.
- Containers, containers, containers. Pots, troughs and planters are the first thing you should be thinking about when growing things in a rented home. Not only does it save you having to assess the soil quality at your new place, it means they’re easier to reposition during the seasons and pop in the car when you relocate.
- In small gardens – which, let’s face it, rented ones usually are – you’ll need to think vertically. Planters that stack, or hang from gutters or railings will help you use every inch of space without encroaching on your limited floor space too much.
- Hanging baskets are another great contender, and can show off a dazzling display of blooms in an especially concentrated space. Mix up perennials, annuals and trailing plants for maximum effect. You can even grow edible plants in hanging baskets…
- Herb gardens are excellent plants for both small spaces and rental gardens. They need very little space, will happily grow in pots, give off a beautiful aroma while you’re outside and are practical for your cooking. Rosemary, thyme, sage and mint are my favourites.
- You can actually grow a surprising number of fruits and vegetables in pots in the UK. Tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, lettuce, radishes and pak choi to name a few! Check out our post on kitchen gardens for more info.
- We mentioned climbers as a great way of covering dull fencing (and we’ll talk about them later as a way of gaining privacy, if you need tips!) Honeysuckle is a beautiful choice, and it’s pretty flowers have an equally tantalising scent in the evening. Morning glory and clematis are also good climbing plants with attractive flowers. Plant them in troughs with trellises or twine attached to the fences or railings.
- If you don’t want too many plants, go for something large that will make an impact. A couple of box shrubs, or bay trees look striking enough to hold their own. You can also grow show-stopping Japanese maple or even orange trees in tubs.
Furniture ideas for rental gardens
When choosing garden furniture, it’s always important to consider how much space you have, and what the most important pieces will be. If you just want to have a cup of coffee in your tiny courtyard, leave the dining tables and corner sofas alone. Hosting garden parties all summer long? You’ll probably want more than just a picnic bench.
Rental garden ideas about furniture need to feature versatility. You’ll want your pieces to look as good in future homes as they do in the one you initially bought them for. Although, keep in mind that new cushions and a lick of paint can tweak the appearance of furniture pretty effectively.
- Bistro sets are the classic choice for small spaces and rental homes. Why? First, because they’re sleek and slimline, taking up very little room. Second, because they’re super easy to fold-up and sling into a removals van when the time comes. Finally, they’re just super chic, so why not?
- Plastic dining sets really remind me of the nineties. I remember them being ugly, cheap and covered in spiders (just me?) However, I’m beginning to come around to some of the more playful designs for plastic lounge chairs currently available. A big benefit of plastic is that they’re lightweight and stackable – good for storing in winter, easy to take somewhere new. These are my current favourites, from Ikea.
- Want cheap garden furniture that’s a bit chunkier? Pallet furniture is your best friend. Pallets go for £10-20 each (if you can’t source them for free – ask around), and can be transformed into just about anything with the most minimal DIY skills. With a few pallets and a dash of creativity, you can have custom garden furniture for next to nothing.
- Shady structures aren’t only for homeowners. A temporary gazebo is the perfect way to take a break from the summer sun, or socialise with friends on a cool evening. No digging required, and you can easily collapse it if you need the space back.
- In fact, there’s no reason why renters need to miss out on any luxe garden addition. For example, here’s something I only discovered recently: inflatable jacuzzis. Sure, you might not be in a position to spend hundreds (or thousands) of pounds to get one permanently installed… but an inflatable one will set you back £300 – sometimes less – and will give you the same lifestyle for a few seasons.
- Fire pits are always a crowd pleaser, keeping you and your family warm on cold nights, providing some light for evening hangouts and offering a welcoming ambience at any time of year. Even better, there are lots of awesome fire pit designs that are either entirely portable, or are easy DIY projects with just a few simple building materials.
- Thanks to a summer of social distancing, garden bars and home pubs have seen a big bump in popularity. There are several ways you could create this in a rental garden, from freestanding counters to DIY, fence-mounted pallet bars. Check out these garden bars for more ideas.
- Storage is the secret to a tidy garden, even if it’s small. Of course, a garden shed is often ideal (we’ve got a whole list of garden shed inspiration), but different gardens and lifestyles have different needs. Take a look at our outdoor toy storage ideas if you want fun ways to keep your family tidy!
- Enjoy environmentally-friendly living. Freestanding water butts and composting containers can easily be set up in a corner to collect a little bit or rainwater and garden waste for your plants to enjoy. Interested in composting tips? We’ve got some FAQs and composting ideas if you need them!
Rental Garden Ideas for Decorating
While you usually can’t make structural changes to a rental garden, you can make up for it in decorative elements. I’m not saying you should go overboard – keep it stylish! – but feel free to let your personality shine through in garden accessories and superficial decor that you can easily swap, replace or take with you for your next home.
- Fairy lights and string lights are brilliant for adding ambient lighting to your garden (we’ve got more garden lighting tips here if you need them). Depending on the style and shapes and colours you choose, your accent lighting can really set the tone and personality of your outside space.
- Lanterns and candles are also good, cheap garden lighting ideas. Pillar candles on a tray, or tealights in mason jars are romantic, atmospheric and relaxing.
- Having a small budget doesn’t mean your garden has to look cheap. Hit your local high street charity shops, or seek out your nearest flea market or salvage yards for unique, vintage decor at a fraction of its original cost. Be discerning with what you buy – it’s about quality, not quantity – and you can curate yourself a stunning vintage-styled garden even on a budget.
- Water features go in and out of style and, to be fair, can require a bit of maintenance. Personally, I find the gentle bubble of a fountain very soothing, and enjoy admiring the smooth surface of water bowls. Each to their own, but self-contained water features come in all kinds of styles, so don’t think that you can’t have one just because you’re renting.
How to create privacy in a rented garden
The last things I want to look at are ways to make your garden feel more private. I’m grateful that my current flat has a solid wall between my balcony and my neighbour, but not everyone is so lucky. I’ve previously lived in places where fences have huge gaps in their design, and streets are so narrow that your neighbours can see right into your living room, across both front gardens.
When you’re already navigating the fact that your home isn’t “yours” in every sense, it’s nice to at least feel like you don’t share your outside space with your neighbours. These methods can be used in front and back gardens – wherever you need to visually keep people out.
- Decorative screens are always my first choice when trying to make any area of my home – inside or out – a little bit more cosy. I can usually find a design that meets my existing aesthetic, and the cost is manageable for just a couple of panels in a small area. Decorative screens are usually slatted, or laser-cut, and don’t completely obscure the view, but that’s nice if you still want to see through them and let sunlight and a breeze through.
- Organic screens. I spoke about using bamboo to cover ugly fences before – well, it can also be used to cover gaps in fences, or to make existing fences a few feet higher if you need to. You could also use trellises or a green curtain in a similar way.
- Ornamental grasses are pretty privacy shields too. Tall, dense blades work well, particularly along the edge of balconies or in window boxes to stop people on the street peering in.
- It’s worth highlighting that all of these screens are good for hiding less-attractive garden features too. For example, shielding bin storage, compost heaps, unattractive sheds or unloved side returns.
Renting a home has its fair share of perks and, for me, having a low-maintenance outdoor area is one of them. Though, as you can see, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a beautiful space that works with your own style. Which of these rental garden ideas will you be trying?