Good Fences Make Good Neighbors (?)

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors (?)

Good fences do NOT make good neighbors…

despite what Robert Frost says.

Bob and Ginny were the best BEST neighbors anyone could have. They were in their late 80s when we moved in, and over the time I knew them they told me many stories. You may have guessed that aside gardening, storytelling–and story listening–are high on my hit parade.

One favorite story: Ginny said in their early married days, she and Bob would have card parties at the house. After several hours, when the group grew weary of it, they would clear out the tables and chairs and turn the room into a dance floor, put a record on the player and dance until the wee hours. This, Ginny said, was the reason the whole house was carpeted except for this room. I could just see this so clearly in my imagination. What fun that must have been.

Many late afternoons Bob would go out back and fire-up the Hibachi grill, a grill that perched atop a custom stand he made. “A grill just big enough for two, Jeannie!” he would call across to me while I finished up my garden chores. Then Ginny would come out with a couple of cocktails and the two of them would sit on the stoop and talk. They golfed almost every day, despite Ginny’s advancing arthritis. Bob kept the yard and garden in pristine condition; not a weed would dare raise its head on Bob’s watch. They took the auto train to Florida in the winter. One day, Bob said to me over the fence, “I wish this could just go on forever; this is the best time of our lives.” They were married over 60 years.

Of course it didn’t go on forever. Rob found Bob collapsed on the sidewalk in front of the house one spring evening. Ginny, unable to manage on her own, moved to a retirement center to be close to her daughter. She too died not long after. The house was sold to contractors who in turn renovated and sold again.

While the new neighbors are nice–mostly, with exception of the late night lawn mowing with lighted helmet, (see blog titled “Joyful Noise(?)”) there is one kind of big problem: Fences are not weed containment systems.

What do we do when someone else deposits weeds in our beds? Intentionally nor not?

It’s one thing if, by our own neglect and poor garden hygiene, we “sleep in the beds we make,” so to speak, and deal with our own weeds; it’s another if we are dealing with a mess coming in from beyond the gate. Horticulturally speaking, seeds travel. They were designed to be able to do this. They travel via wind, via birds and other pollinators, via small rodents. Even a good fence will not stop them. There are also big weeds–poke weed primarily–that nod their heads and “on 3” drop their seed bombs over the top of the fence into my plant beds. You might know the Elvis Presley song, “Poke Salad Annie;” the plant is toxic in its later more mature form, including the berries, but the early leaves are reportedly tasty. I cannot attest to this, but I am confident this weed is N-O-T grown in my neighbor’s garden for this purpose.

A couple of weeks ago I had my lawn man take a hedge trimmer to combat them via our side, as the weeds got so tall I couldn’t reach any further to cut them back. They also cut off the trumpet vine that, like Medusa on Rogaine, has been trying to find some way in over the fence. I feel like I might turn to stone too, just watching, a modern-day Perseus battling my adversaries. And the amoeba of English Ivy entering from under the fence. It’s rather becoming an exercise in military tactics more than gardening, fighting on all these fronts. In the process, a new and not very experienced helper on the lawn team cut down my lilac. Sigh. He thought it  a weed, too, which I admit given the look of a late August lilac, I can’t say I blame him. Which is the reason it was at the far back end of the property to begin with.

The worst of it, though, are the seeds of the Boneset, a member of the sunflower family. While not difficult to pull, or completely unattractive as a plant (plus they provide important food source for butterflies) they are like a never-ending infantry; for every one I pull it seems like I have one hundred more. And if I can’t manage to eradicate as many as possible now, once the seeds blow I will have thousands more next year just waiting to hear the bugle call “sprout!”

Abundance in the garden, in life, doesn’t always come in the ways we might want. Sometimes it comes in the bag loads of club-sized zucchini a well-meaning friend leaves on the door handle; it might come in Job-like stretches of hardship; it might come in weeds in the beds. My friend, Bill Noble, says you can’t be resentful and grateful at the same time; you can only be one or the other. So I’m going to follow his advice and express gratitude that I have the physical ability to pull weeds in the warm sunshine of the garden, hire out help when I need to, think about a new plant to replace the lilac that wasn’t doing all that well anyway, do my best to ensure I’m not dropping my weeds in someone else’s bed, and most of all consider with gratitude the gift of two very sweet story-telling neighbors.

Plants Whimsey

4 comments

  1. maureen brown says:

    What a beautiful story Jeannie, I got a little misty reading it. I have had three sets of neighbors in the last 16 years and my very favorite was the family with two little girls who would often hang out of their dining room window to talk to me while I was watering or wander into my yard to chat while I worked in the garden. Unfortunately I have the “weed” people also and have fallen into my astilbes more than once trying to pull the weeds in the back of that garden. I love your friend’s saying though and will try to remember it.

    • Joanne Stange says:

      What an inspiring story of your elderly neighbors and your friendship.
      Never thought about fences that way but as I look at our yard that’s exactly right. The fence areas are war zones! And to prove the point further, our previous house didn’t have a single fence on any of the 3 property lines and there were no contentious weeds along the borders! Just nice grass.

      • Jeannie says:

        Thank you, Joanne! I agree–it is so, so much easier to keep things tidy when a fence doesn’t exist between. That in itself is a nice metaphor. Sometimes fences keep things in for safety–like children, dogs–but sometimes they act as a barrier that is a hindrance and a “front line.” Thank you too, for writing!

    • Jeannie says:

      That is so sweet about the little girls, Maureen! I can really see that in my mind. And it is often the back reaches of the garden that seem to be so susceptible to the weeds–out of sight out of mind? Not really…not when we are trying to cultivate things back there when neighbor’s are ok with letting things go a bit too wild. :)

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