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The rise of the renter is bad news for gardening

Catherine Stewart

Catherine Stewart

September 25, 2014

Falls in UK home ownership correlate strongly with falling numbers who say they ‘have a garden’, and also money spent in garden centres. But renting is no barrier to garden spending in Europe. Why not?

About 1.5 million fewer people in Britain now say they have either a garden or an allotment compared to 2007. This drop is particularly significant in the under 35 age group which has 4 million fewer homeowners than in 1987, meaning a much bigger percentage are now renting.

Added to the drop in home owning is the likelihood that younger owners will have bought an apartment (often without even a balcony) rather than a house. And even if they own a small house, it’s often in an urban area where, by necessity, gardening space gets sacrificed in favour of off-street parking.

The new 2014 HTA Garden Market Retail Analysis in the UK finds that renters spend only about 55% of the average spend of a home owner, so this data signals further falls in plant sales and garden centre income as this demographic ages into the 45-55 year old bracket which is typically more gardening-orientated. In a double whammy, as the current 50+ age group become older and more frail, their current spending habits will also reduce.

To combat this doom and gloom, the market analysis points to retail opportunities around developing small mobile gardens that can be moved easily from one rental property to the next.

But the interesting thing about this data is that European countries, which have a strong tradition of renting rather than owning, have higher per capita spend on plants and gardening products than the UK. Why would this be so?

Without knowing anything about UK rental leases, I wonder if it’s a similar situation to Australia where rental leases are ridiculously restrictive and rarely long-term, so it’s no wonder renters don’t think of what’s outside the house as ‘their’ garden and worth any time or attention. In European countries and many US cities where long term renting is the norm, leases tend to be more like our commercial leases ie you can make changes/improvements to the property as long as you restore it to its original state when you leave (unless the owner-landlord wants to keep it that way). Leases are often 3 years +, with renewal options of a further 2-3 years, giving stability to renters, especially families with children, and landlords and therefore whole communities. Renters typically think of these properties as ‘theirs’, and will stay for decades, putting lots of time and money into making a beautiful home, to the benefit of both parties as well as the local streetscape and neighbourhood.

In Australia, you’ll struggle to get a lease that’s longer than 12 months, and after that’s up, it often slides into a month-by-month situation as landlords hope for rent rises with new tenants or some profit from selling, and tenants who’ve become accustomed to mobility hesitate to commit. No wonder that as rental percentages increase, gardening as a hobby disappears and local amenity suffers.

While I think that encouraging gardening opportunities for a younger demographic by developing small, mobile gardens can’t do any harm, it’s fiddling around the edges of a much bigger, systemic problem that needs a much bigger, government-led solution. Or some enlightened landlords willing to give it a go.

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