28 April 2014

Grapes in a rental garden

Grapevines are wonderful. They provide good shade in summer, drop their leaves to allow sun in winter, don't need much water or loving care, and best of all: they grow grapes!

But in a rental garden, are they possible?

We started with a cutting in a pot. As it turns out we have been in the same rental house nearly seven years, but while our lovely vine was getting established in his pot, we could have relocated with him if we needed to. In the photo below he's been settling in for about six months.

By Mr Vine's second summer he needed something to grow up, and we helped him with bits of makeshift trellis in the raised garden bed - mostly recycled items heading for bulk waste, like a rusted clothes drying rack. 


But what I really wanted was for the vine to provide shade for the front of the house.

Our lounge heats up not just from direct summer sun, but from reflected heat off sunny bricks. So the challenge was to build a trellis so the grapevine could grow over the garden entrance as far as the roof, without putting up any permanent fixtures.

The main support was a branch salvaged when trimming the gum tree. The trellis comprises two lengths of thick wire, each with loops twisted into them, one lying along the gutter and one connecting the gutter to the gum tree support. Loops between the two wires are connected with pieces of clothesline.

Our vine has now spent two summers growing up the trellis and I am thrilled with this addition to our garden, and to our passive cooling measures for the living area. Grapevines need firm pruning but its not an excessive task. Thus far, only pruning a couple of times a year, the vine has been easy to keep away from the tiles and causes no problems along the roof line.

We know the vine has been through the bottom of the pot for years now. If we need to we can dig it out to remove it when we leave (but why would any landlord want it gone?). Hopefully it can be left to bless future residents.

The grapes are delicious, although they come ripe each year exactly when we are away on our summer holiday. Eva spent the weeks before we left this year telling all our friends to come and eat our grapes while we were away and we were delighted that one good friend did just that, so the harvest was not wasted.

Initial Time: well now... Putting a grape cutting in a pot took about five minutes. Building the trellis took me about five minutes (erecting the gum tree support post) and Tyson about an hour (twisting wires). Growing a grapevine has taken five years so far. We got edible grapes from the fourth summer.

Initial Cost: Zero. We were given our cutting by friends.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Zero cost. We water with recycled bath, shower or washing machine water through summer, top up the soil with home-grown compost and mulch with leaves off other plants around the garden. Pruning takes about half an hour two or three times a year. As its in a well-mulched pot, there are hardly any weeds.

Impact: Our bricks are shaded a little more of the day and reflect less heat in our lounge window and front door. I don't know if the temperature is actually much cooler but I feel cooler to have a green space rather than the glare of a brick driveway when I look out the window. As it takes so long to be cold enough for leaves to fall here, I have actually cut most of the leaves off to let autumn sun through. And we get to eat home-grown grapes! Which is cool, and also saves a bit on  food miles/ pesticides/ packaging/ etc.

This picture was taken last July - not much sign of leaves dropping off despite it being the middle of winter! Last year we had only one week between the last leaf falling and the first spring shoots emerging. Ah Perth. Not really a climate of four seasons.