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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 former gardens editor at Martha Stewart Living (and now the director of content and communications at the Perfect Earth Project). 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

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

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