Slow gardening in the Piedmont

Story and Photo by Cynthia Wood

I never thought about garden etiquette when I was growing up in the country. We had acres of land and there wasn’t another house in sight. We planted whatever we wanted and kept the garden as neat and tidy – or not—as we saw fit. 

I still have a farm with lots of land and not another house in sight, but I also live part of the time in a small town, and gardening etiquette is different there. First and foremost, it’s essential to know where property boundaries are. For years, I did battle with an elderly neighbor who insisted that my driveway was hers. I wasn’t too concerned about the problem until I arrived home late one night to find that the entrance to my driveway had been replaced by a deep trench. I nearly destroyed my car. In desperation, I had the property surveyed and the boundaries clearly marked. Much to my elderly neighbor’s chagrin, my property line was 12 inches from her sunroom and, of course, the driveway was on my property. Her much-loved azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) were planted in my yard. So was the autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) that she adored and I hated. In the interest of peace and respect for her age, I didn’t remove her plants, even though she lived to be well over 100 years old.

You don’t have to like their landscaping, but remember that they may not like yours either.

And that autumn olive brings up another point of good citizenship. Please don’t plant invasive species that will spread into your neighbor’s yard. You may love using bamboo as a screen, but your neighbor may hate digging out shoots and runners every other week. Please don’t plant thugs, such as tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) or autumn olive that will spread throughout the neighborhood. Think twice before planting anything that is known to harbor diseases or pests that will harm your neighbor’s garden.

Animals are another consideration. Please make sure that your dogs stay in your yard and aren’t free to dig in a neighbor’s vegetable garden. Make sure that they aren’t left alone for hours and that they don’t solve their boredom by barking for hours. Keep your property kept free of animal waste, especially during the warmer months when flies and odors are problems. Outdoor cats are even more problematic because they don’t respect boundaries and delight in killing birds. If your neighbor is a bird watcher and you have an outdoor cat on the prowl, then there’s going to be trouble. My daughter’s killing machine of a cat regularly presents the cat-hating neighbor on their street with gifts of dead birds. He’s a rascal, and knows precisely how to irritate the humans.

Pesticides and chemicals are another potential problem. If you spray herbicides near your property line on a windy day, then it’s quite likely that your neighbor’s plants will be affected. Occasionally there’s a neighbor who deliberately stands a bit too close to the property line and just manages to kill a plant on the other side of the fence. This behavior is far more common than most people would ever imagine.

Good manners in the garden are really just about respect for other gardeners and neighbors. You don’t have to like their landscaping, but remember that they may not like yours either. Tolerance and flexibility are important. So is a willingness to share produce or extra plants and to compliment your neighbor’s flowers. If all else fails, remember, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Scroll to Top