Gardens That Welcome and Include
After way too many hot dry days, the garden is finally starting to perk up, thanks more to heavy dews than actual rain. After each rinsing, grateful birds flock eagerly to drink and prink and the dusty plants breathe freely again. At last the garden feels like a haven again. September 1 is supposed to usher in autumn, though the equinox isn’t until the 22nd this year, but despite still-hot days, autumn is clearly coming. Cooler nights and crisper air hint at rain on the way, and it will certainly be welcome. I’ve been thinking about welcome lately as I visited several gardens that felt far from welcoming. Two were described as garden retreats and another as a haven, but all shared a combination of stark public-facing areas and high hedges that offered not even a glimpse of the goodies inside.
Though a sense of enclosure can make a garden feel comfortably sheltered, high, dense hedges (or walls or fences) can feel fortress-like, walling out passersby as well as any neighbors. I get that feeling overlooked by neighbors can be uncomfortable; I always prefer to live where curtains aren’t needed because nobody is in a position to see into the house. However, what would it hurt to provide some sense of abundance in the front yards, instead of pairing tightly mown lawn with sternly sheared blobs of barberry or spirea or dwarf laurel and calling it good? Not only does that look rather barren and bleak, such highly manicured landscapes don’t offer food or shelter to anyone or anything (except I suppose in that the landscapers get a wage to keep that iron hand of control so much in evidence). The actual gardens have retreated behind the tall hedges, and whatever they may be, these public-side plantings are not welcoming and definitely not gardens.
Little Gardens Everywhere
With so much concern for pollinators in the news these days, I’d love to see a national movement to turn all such unused lawn-scapes into pollinator patches. There could still be those towering privacy hedges, guarding more personal gardens from unwelcome eyes, but at least the useless turf, unvisited except by weekly mowers, could be doing some good in this weary world. Coming away from my little tour, I found myself even more appreciative than ever of my own neighborhood in a rather charming (and garden-rich) mobile home park. In terms of privacy, I hadn’t expected much when we moved in, yet I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to find that our small home feels fully as private as the physically isolated places I’ve lived. I’m impressed at the forethought that has each unit placed so that few if any neighboring windows are directly aligned. Some unwanted views are blocked by a fence, carport or shed, but most are screened by evergreen plants, which makes a stroll in the mobile home park feel like, well, a stroll in a PARK park.
Because the lots are mostly very small, the gardens tend to spill out into the street, generously sharing blossoms and assorted garden decorations with passersby. Even before I lived here, the park reminded me of those lovely paintings of English cottage gardens, which always seemed to be both billowing with bloom and packed with produce. Many of these little gardens are similarly dual-duty spaces, with raspberries trellised up to save space above a ruffle of bright annuals, and a sprawl of strawberries sharing a bed with tall, fragrant lilies. Where elderly (and hello, totally inappropriate) trees devour planting beds with questing, hungry roots, several people have created raised box beds filled with kale and calendulas, squash and salvias, roses and rutabagas. One enterprising neighbor lines a cement carport floor with potatoes in big grow-bags and for the delectation of the neighborhood plants the street edge with spectacular bushes of Brugmansia, with enormous, swirling flowers amid airy puffs of Nicotiana mutabilis that scent the air from evening into the night. Across the narrow street, a splendid Datura opens deep purple blossoms with dramatic white linings, and both plants are keeping local bees busy zooming back and forth to savor the bounty.
Welcoming and Inclusive
When you walk around this little neighborhood in high summer, the sound of happy bees is almost as loud as the birdsong. These friendly, welcoming little gardens are always lively, providing a haven indeed for a multitude of tiny critters. Most of the homes also offer a little seating area, some tucked behind a sheltering tree, others snugged down a necessarily short path with garden beds on both sides, and a few set out in full view of the street. Narrow and overhung with bushes, the shared street is really more like a long, winding driveway, with gardens spill into it to soften any hard lines. Since most passersby are neighbors, there’s less focus on shutting people out and more on inviting them in for a cup of tea and a comfortable chat. After decades of living at the end of long driveways with no neighbors in sight, it’s refreshing to be part of a genuine neighborhood, where kids play in the street and people walking their little dogs stop to chat (and get totally tangled in leashes as the dogs have a little sniff-fest).
Our newest neighbors arrived a few weeks ago, a lovely young family with two pre-teen boys. Originally from Venezuela, they first sought political asylum in Florida, then moved here at the invitation of a neighbor who was an old friend. Now they’re all sharing an older but renovated mobile home, the owner having moved into a smaller home-share part of the unit and the family living in the main area. The whole family spends time outside, kids playing with lots of laughter and joking, adults chatting cheerfully with passersby. What’s more, the whole family is enjoying bringing some tired, weedy garden beds back into vibrant life. Soon this neglected patch will be another abundant little garden, welcoming and friendly. Onward, right?