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The Art of Garden Etiquette: 10 Ways to Show Respect to Neighbors

 
 
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The Art of Garden Etiquette: 10 Ways to Show Respect to Neighbors

 
 

It’s always a good idea to give the gift of courtesy to your neighbors. Even if they’re not the type to fly into a yard rage, they’ll still appreciate a little kindness in the garden.

What do the basic tenets of neighborliness require? Keep your yard tidy (dazzling horticultural displays are always welcome, but not mandatory). Mow your grass (if you have any), rake the leaves, and try not to leave stuff  like bikes, toys, and garden tools littering the lawn. A good rule of thumb is to consider how you’d like your neighbor’s yard to look, and then apply it to your own. Oh, your standards aren’t that high? Then try imagining yourself as a discriminating person with a penchant for orderliness and good taste.

City gardeners, you’re not off the hook. The neighbors whose windows overlook your backyard or balcony may be a tad jealous of your outdoor space. If you can’t invite them over for a barbecue, at least keep your outdoor space looking decent (and, OK, enviable).

For garden etiquette insights we talked with Melissa Ozawa, the gardens editor at Martha Stewart Living. Ozawa herself tends a small outdoor space in New York City and also gardens upstate in Columbia County. Here are 10 common-sense good-neighbor suggestions:

Respect Property Lines

Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista. See more of this garden at Garden Visit: At Home with Architect Kelly Haegglund in Mill Valley, CA.
Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista. See more of this garden at Garden Visit: At Home with Architect Kelly Haegglund in Mill Valley, CA.

Prune your trees, shrubs, and vines so they don’t encroach on your neighbor’s space. “And keep safety in mind,” says Ozawa. “Remove any big branches that look damaged or diseased—a storm could make them more precarious, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Trimming overhanging branches also helps prevent your leaves from falling into a neighbor’s yard—and you don’t want your leaves in the neighbor’s yard.

Plant Natives

Sunflowers (Helianthus). Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer. For more, see Field Guide: Sunflowers.
Above: Sunflowers (Helianthus). Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer. For more, see Field Guide: Sunflowers.

Don’t plant invasive species: they might decide to invade your neighbor’s garden after they’ve conquered yours. A better idea, says Ozawa, is to embrace native species well suited to your environment. They typically require less care than more exotic cultivars. The National Audubon Society has a native plant database to help you choose natives that thrive in your zip code (and create a bird-friendly habitat). “If you put in a beautiful native plant your neighbor didn’t know about, it’s a great way to teach people,” Ozawa says. “That’s something Martha likes to do.”

Say No to Chemicals

A compost pile in Healdsburg, California. Photograph by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista. See more of this garden in Poppies in Paradise: A Garden Visit in Healdsburg, California.
Above: A compost pile in Healdsburg, California. Photograph by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista. See more of this garden in Poppies in Paradise: A Garden Visit in Healdsburg, California.

Be aware that noxious substances you spray or put in the ground don’t necessarily stop at your property line. Ozawa uses compost to fertilize her garden and beneficial insects to ward off pests. “If you’re spraying insecticide, it can go all over, causing harm to friendly insects, birds, neighborhood pets, and even children.”

Build a Friendly Fence

A neighborly fence, indeed. For more of this garden, see Before & After: A Garden Makeover in Michigan for Editor Michelle Adams. Photograph by Marta Xochilt Perez.
Above: A neighborly fence, indeed. For more of this garden, see Before & After: A Garden Makeover in Michigan for Editor Michelle Adams. Photograph by Marta Xochilt Perez.

There’s a reason why they say good fences make good neighbors. Fences designate property lines, confine pets, and keep deer from eating the plants—but they can obstruct views and look unsightly. Give your neighbor a heads up if you’re planning to build a new fence, or to replace a fence with a higher one. New trees that might block a neighbor’s view should also be discussed.

 Negotiate, Compromise, Accept

Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

If there’s a property line dispute, suggest that you and your neighbor hire an expert to resolve it, and agree to split the cost. Then accept the resolution.

Keep Your Slope to Yourself

Architect Barbara Chambers transformed a slope into a gracious backyard feature in her garden in Mill Valley, California. See more in Architect Visit: Barbara Chambers at Home in Mill Valley. Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista.
Above: Architect Barbara Chambers transformed a slope into a gracious backyard feature in her garden in Mill Valley, California. See more in Architect Visit: Barbara Chambers at Home in Mill Valley. Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista.

If you have a retaining wall, fence, or steep slope that’s collapsing onto your neighbor’s property, get it repaired.

Enjoy the Sounds of Silence

Photograph by Marie Viljoen. See more in Rehab Diary: A Year in the Life of a Brooklyn Garden.
Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen. See more in Rehab Diary: A Year in the Life of a Brooklyn Garden.

Keep it down over there! Be considerate in your use of power tools: for example, no leaf blowers before noon on a weekend. “It’s so much nicer to hear birds chirping and insects buzzing and children playing,” says Ozawa. “And there’s something wonderful about using hand tools, like a rake for the leaves—you feel more connected to the land, and that’s part of the joy of gardening.” A push mower isn’t just quieter; it’s good exercise and better for the environment as well.

And—no surprise here—loud parties won’t make you popular. A neighbor shouldn’t have to ask you to keep it down (especially if the hour is late), but if that happens, apologize and do so. Immediately.

Have a Light Touch

See more in Hardscaping 101: Outdoor Wall Lights. Photograph via Royal Botania.
Above: See more in Hardscaping 101: Outdoor Wall Lights. Photograph via Royal Botania.

If you’re installing outdoor lighting—such as wall lights, spotlights,  floodlights, or landscape lights—make sure they don’t shine right into your neighbor’s windows. Especially their bedroom windows.

Practice Pet Etiquette

Best friends’ playdate. For more of this garden, see Before & After: A Garden Makeover in Michigan for Editor Michelle Adams. Photograph by Marta Xochilt Perez.
Above: Best friends’ playdate. For more of this garden, see Before & After: A Garden Makeover in Michigan for Editor Michelle Adams. Photograph by Marta Xochilt Perez.

Keep pets enclosed so they don’t go in your neighbor’s yard. The same could be said of young children—you’ve heard the expression, “You kids get off my lawn!”

Share Your Toys, er, Tools

Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.
Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

Lend tools willingly. After all, you never know when your neighbor might have something you need to borrow. If you worry about getting your tools back, invest in a Bluetooth tracking device like the Tick. It’s $29.97 at Home Depot and when attached to an item you loaned, it will emit a beacon to show where your wandering shovel has ended up in the neighborhood. And if you borrow tools? Return them the moment you’re done.

Bonus Tip

Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.
Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

The most important piece of general advice: Keep the lines of communication open. Tell your neighbors about any changes you’re planning that might affect them. If you’re bothered by a neighbor’s actions (or inaction), find a way to gently express your feelings without raising hackles. And about that neighborhood barbecue . . . ?

N.B.: More expert advice:

 

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