Gardens don’t have to end at the property line

Combined border with Arborvitaes recently planted

by Susan Harris

So far, I’ve blogged twice about what gardening expert Lisa Winters had to say last month in her Winter Workshop talk – reporting her favorite trees for small gardens, both the evergreens and the deciduous ones.   Now here’s another solution Lisa suggested for gardeners who are acreage-challenged – using bits of our neighbors’ properties in our own garden design, especially jointly designing a shared border.

Turns out I have an example of a shared border of my own to relate, and to my mind there’s no time for looking through old garden photos than now, in mid-February.  So here’s the story.

For years, the border on side of my back garden was dominated by a Bradford pear, which grew quickly to present two problems:  a large canopy that hogged and shaded huge amounts of the garden, and a tendency to break in storms.   To make it less of a garden-hog, I had limbed it up repeatedly and the result was a tree that no longer had a natural shape, thanks to my struggles to rejigger the tree’s size.  (A case of wrong plant or wrong place – one of those.)  And this flaw was where my eyes always seemed to linger in the garden – naturally – so I finally had the large eyesore removed.   And wow, what opportunities its removal opened up for me!

For example, now was a great chance to include some evergreens in this large, long border with almost nothing to show for itself all winter.   I wanted to block the view of my neighbor’s house from the back garden, too, and concluded that the perfect plant to do all this – and one that would grow quickly, too – was the ‘Green Giant’ Arborvitae.  They grow to 30-50′ tall at the rate of 3-5 feet a year for the first several years, then slowing down.   But I definitely did NOT want to plant them like soldiers at attention down the field, the way so many privacy screens are planted.

The solution?  Grouping five of them in a staggered way across the back of the border, with three of them actually on my neighbor’s property.  I was ready to foot the bill for those, too – anything for the design I wanted and hey, they’re inexpensive – but happily, she insisted on paying for them.   The immediate result is shown in the photo above, with my garden on the left, with the Adirondack chairs, and the new border I designed for her side looking spare with its recent additions.   The photo was taken from my deck.

View of combined border from my neighbor's deck.

Just two years later, here’s the view from my neighbor’s side, and it illustrates another trick used by acreage-challenged gardeners everywhere – it goes by the term “borrowed view”.  My neighbor here enjoys expanded views from her deck because she’s looking into several other gardens – in this case my own and even one more neighbor on the other side of me (whose garden is colorful earlier in the season than mine).  But notice – she can’t see my Adirondack chairs from here because the Arborvitaes are doing their job of screening – yay team!  And remember the the multiple blizzards of 2010 that left evergreens strewn in their wake?  These Arborvitaes came through without a single injury.  So yes, I’m a fan.

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