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They say “good fences make good neighbours.” The great philosopher Homer Simpson said, “you don’t win friends with salad.” But our little social experiment that began the summer of 2020 during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, proves both of these statements false.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, my husband, a carpenter for the film industry in Toronto, was off work like so many others. After the initial “just two weeks” dragged into months, it was clear he needed a project. A carpenter without a project involving power tools is like a librarian without a book recommendation. So, we turned to the sagging 20-year-old fence between us and our neighbour to our south, the Fosters. Time for a repair and replacement.
When that fence came down, both families emerged on either side of where it once stood and almost simultaneously said, “this looks better!” In fact, because we were locked down and held up in our homes, the open space felt curative. Having easier exposure to our neighbours felt less socially isolating and the expanded green space felt liberating. We could all feel it immediately. Our minds quickly turned to the possibilities … maybe we could create a shared vegetable garden to make our summer meals healthier and easier, avoid the COVID-restricted markets and save money.
“Carrot we leave it down?” Yes. We agreed we could. (Nothing beets a good corny vegetable pun.)
“Lettuce use the fence boards to build raised garden beds to grow the vegetables.” And we did.
The carpenter had his project. We involved the teen boys who were quickly becoming dangerously glued to their screens. They cleaned up, piled wood, picked up a power tool or two to cut and fasten, and painted the final products: two eight foot by three foot raised planters that we positioned along the property line toward the back of the yards. Another smaller, lower planter, was built and positioned closer to the houses to grow herbs. One section of fence was preserved, put on its side and put along the property line where we most needed a bit of privacy – where we sit outside to dine or work.
As one open space, we have the ideal conditions. Our side of the property is all shade, the Fosters all sun. The vegetable garden gets the best of both throughout the day. Between the two yards, we also have a shrub and flower bed, which without the fence we combined as one, the shrub acting as an additional privacy barrier without the restrictive fencing. On our neighbours’ sunny side of this garden, we planted perennial flowers, with the intent we can harvest those for floral bouquets to brighten up our indoor space.
A few things make this arrangement work. We really like our neighbours but never feel we are so close we invade each other’s space or privacy. They’re not inviting themselves over for dinner when they see us lighting up the barbecue and neither do we.
Garden maintenance involves just two of us: on our side, it’s me and on their side, it’s him. We’ve kind of become garden spouses. We share the responsibility and the bounty, including the cost of the initial seedlings, watering, staking, transplanting and weeding. We often meet over the garden to discuss such matters as, “Can you eat radish leaves?” (Yes, turns out you can.) Or we just marvel at the beauty of salad fixings.
In year one we learned squash takes up more real estate than is worth; in year two we added an additional bed for multiple varieties of tomatoes and tried broccoli for the first and last time. This year we planted more than 25 different varieties of vegetables, including cauliflower and melon. We added sunflowers by the back lane in support of Ukraine.
We also learned how to deal with two dogs in one space. They have a big Golden Retriever. We have a small Havanese. The two dogs get along great. They peacefully co-exist. When they hear a suspicious noise coming from the back lane, they work together as our security system; our very own Paw Patrol.
But with a big dog comes big poo. This smart dog chose to put its poo under our tree, on our side of the yard. Our neighbour says it is the dog’s way of deterring raccoons, which come to think of it, we haven’t seen since. Initially, my husband thought he’d be a good neighbour and pick up that big-dog poo – at least until the gag reaction kicked in. We have a little dog for a reason. The remedy: when we find a deposit, we simply cover it with an empty upside-down container. Our neighbour spots it and takes care of it.
This may sound pretty radish-ical and maybe you’re quick to squash the idea. But maybe you can make peas with your neighbour and this corn work for you, too. Take it from us, we’ve bean there – you can win friends with salad!
Donna Lindell lives in Toronto.
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