Fremantle, Western Australia

Landscape architect at the City of Fremantle and Cuttings reader, Giles Pickard, is an inspiration to anyone renting who doesn’t think it worthwhile or maybe too expensive to create a sustainable garden.

He was keen to share his experiences with other readers, so we take a tour of his and partner Kate McLeod’s latest low budget but high results garden. Check out the size of the zucchini Kate is holding!

This is the seventh time in about 8 years living in Melbourne and now Mosman Park in WA that the pair have created a garden in a rental property. And Giles reckons it’s worth every bit of effort for the rewards, and it can be done quickly and quite cheaply too.

These before and after images of the same corner of the back garden show just how quickly it can happen. They were taken about five months apart, and just look at that produce!

Giles says that they have already been ‘reimbursed’ the money outlaid on the garden because they had three months continual supply of all the produce they needed during summer.

Cheap, Easy and Sustainable

‘The soil is the key,’ says Giles. ‘We brought in about 8m3 of compost to improve the soil and its water holding capacity. The compost Giles and Kate introduced was recycled greenwaste from Biowise. It is produced from council kerbside collections of greenwaste. (BioWise is a joint venture between SITA Environmental Solutions & the Water Corporation of Western Australia. BioWise composts and mulches are made to Australian Standard AS 4454 – Composts, soil conditioners and mulches.)

Kate and Giles also make their own compost. ‘No organic waste leaves the property,’ Giles says. ‘And I even collect the used coffee grounds from a local coffee shop (Blink Coffee, which has the honour of being Fremantle’s smallest coffee shop). I provided them with five buckets, which they fill and I pick up on the weekends. I even made a poster for the shop, which they have put up in their window.’

Recycled Materials

Giles and Kate built small raised garden beds from materials found on roadsides. Shown here are the results of a collecting trip!

‘All the timber and even the lattice in the photos came from roadside pickups,’ says Giles. ‘The paths are topped with sawdust. We collect that from a local timber yard for free.’

Even an old Webber barbeque gets a new lease of life by Giles and Kate.

‘Many of the plants are from friends as cuttings and seeds,’ he says. ‘Although we did buy a number of fruit trees for this garden, as it’s quite large. But I figure, the money we spent on the trees was what we would spend on a concert ticket.’

‘And before we left Melbourne we sold about 500 plants as we couldn’t take them with us. This gave us some money to spend on the garden here.’

And there’s nothing like rallying friends to help either! Giles and Kate are having a working bee to dig up the front lawn.
‘Everything here is grown totally organically, so I didn’t want to use herbicide to get rid of the lawn.’


Giles has designed the garden to capture all the stormwater too.

‘Out the front we’ll be diverting stormwater into a drainage swale and onto the nature strip.’ Giles is installing a drip irrigation system. It’s about the only material in the garden that’s not recycled and the most ‘capital intensive’, so they are installing it in stages. It and the electric lawn mower are the only items that require power, but even then they use green power.

Giles offers some more tips for being as sustainable as possible. ‘Use your lawn mower as a mulcher to speed up the composting of waste material and ask your neighbours if you can rake their autumn leaves up to use for mulch and composting.’

The next task on their agenda is to get some chooks, then Kate and Giles will be even more self sufficient in the produce department – not to mention fertiliser and pest control!

Other Benefits

Since the garden was established, Giles and Kate have noticed that they are now attracting a variety of wildlife to the garden.

‘We now have blue tongue lizards, frogs have moved in, and there’s lots of birdlife. Kookaburras sit on the clothes line, there was a peregrine falcon flying overhead recently and there are pink galahs nesting close by.’

‘Putting in gardens wherever we have lived has led to some happy landlords, as their property is improved. This in turn has led to some glowing references which has helped us in tight rental markets,’ says Giles.

These photographs, the most recent, show the garden in autumn 2008 – a year since they began work. The next shot shows their garden looking south, and the final one their garden looking north.