A joint flower bed can be a great way for neighbors to spruce up an awkward patch of ground. But as with any communal activity, sharing a gardening project opens the door to disagreement if the participants have different visions for their landscapes.
I have a neighbor whose driveway is maybe 6 feet from mine. The odd patch of grass between them was always a pain to mow, because it’s separate from the rest of my lawn. I wanted to convert it to a flower bed, but realized it would look silly to just do my half. So I decided to invite my neighbor to join the project.
Making a Plan
Obviously, the first thing you need to do before breaking ground is to see if your neighbor is willing to participate. You want to make sure at the outset that both parties are in agreement about who will be responsible for what.
Our little patch of earth was covered in half-dead grass, which was one of the reasons we wanted to change it. It was too close to the hot asphalt of the road, and the bed was too shallow to sustain a healthy turf. My neighbor and I agreed to each be responsible for digging up our own side of the bed.
She didn’t know much about plants, and I’m an avid gardener, so we agreed to go shopping together. I showed her the plants that would do well in our hot, rocky patch, and she decided which she liked the best.
We made one purchase of plants, soil and mulch and split the cost. I set the plants out in the bed from tallest (center, back) to shortest (front, edges), and we each planted the ones on our own side.
For the most part, each party can maintain their side of the bed as they choose. My neighbors already had a sprinkler installed on their side of the bed. I put in a drip irrigation hose.
There are a couple of things you need to consult one another about. For instance you should buy your mulch together, so it matches. The color of mulch can vary quite a bit. It’s also a good idea to work together on replacing dead plants with ones that will complement the original scheme.
My neighbors have moved, and the people who live there now are from out of state. They don’t seem to understand the limitations of the shallow, rocky soil we have in the Texas Hill Country.
Our shared bed is landscaped with heat- and drought-tolerant native plants. Unfortunately, it’s not the evergreen foliage my neighbors are accustomed to. The plants freeze back in the winter and grow aggressively in the spring.
In the winter the bed looks barren, but the plants quickly reestablish themselves when the temperature rises. In fact, we usually have to think about trimming them back some before the end of the summer. My neighbor took one look at the seemingly empty bed last winter and decided we needed more plants.
Despite our reassurances that the bed would be fine come spring, she went out on her own and bought a bunch of plants for both sides of the bed. And she didn’t just buy seedlings, she bought bigger plants in large containers. Unfortunately, there was no way to even put some of them in the ground, because the bed is so shallow near the road, you hit rocks about 4 to 5 inches down. The root balls on these babies were 10 inches tall.
We thanked her for trying to help with the landscape, but explained that we didn’t feel we needed any more plants on our side. We also explained about the shallow nature of the bed, and why smaller plants work better in some of the areas where she proposed putting the large plants. She wasn’t happy, but we nicely but firmly refused her offer of new plants.
It’s also a good idea when you’re delivering unwanted news to throw the recipient a bone, so we agreed to purchase mulch for the bed and have our teenage sons install it on both sides. This seemed to make her feel a little better.
It’s a fine line to walk, but you have to try to maintain neighborly relations without giving up your right to decide what’s best for your own property.
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