Gardening to meet the neighbors

            “If you want to meet your neighbors, plant a garden in your front yard,” said my friend and colleague Dawn Pape.

Pape had just finished installing a curb-cut rain garden to catch and soak up storm water that runs down the road in front of her house. While doing so, she met just about every person living on her street. I discovered the same phenomenon myself when I tore out the grass in our boulevard strip last fall and planted native flowers and grasses in its place.

I started with the tiny corner of grass between the driveway and the sidewalks, which I dug out by hand. Our street is usually quiet. But the church down the road was having a festival that day and I attracted the attention of not only our neighbors, but also random strangers, many of whom worried that I shouldn’t be digging a hole in the heat while pregnant.

We wisely chose to remove the remainder of the boulevard grass with a sod cutter the next weekend, and continued to draw attention to ourselves by parking the pick-up sideways in the street to dump compost and mulch into the soon-to-be garden. Over the next few days while I planted my new flowers and grasses, I met the neighbors down the street and their little white dog, a woman who  once was a nanny for a family that lived in our house and a group of groomsmen that were killing time waiting for a wedding to begin.

This summer, I find time to work in the boulevard garden late in the evening after the baby has gone to sleep. Some nights, my neighbor across the street practices the fiddle on her porch and the music dances in the warm summer air as sunlight slowly fades away. Other nights, people out on their evening walks will stop to talk while passing by. Oftentimes, they ask about the house, having watched the previous owner rescue it from its previous state of disrepair. Just as often they’ll ask, “Do you have a little one? We saw the decorations on your door this winter.” We chat for a while and then they are back to their walks and I’m back to my weeding, grabbing one last clump of crabgrass before darkness descends.

I planted a garden because I was sick of watering and mowing a tiny strip of lawn between the road and the sidewalk and the grass was full of weeds anyway. I chose native perennials because they are easy to maintain and because I wanted to provide a food source for pollinators. Pape planted a garden because she wanted to do the right thing to help to reduce storm water pollution in her neighborhood. Neither of us set out to meet our neighbors, but we are glad we did.

It is amazing how something as simple as a garden can provide so many different functions and benefits. A garden can provide habitat for wildlife, decorate a yard, make a statement, hide an ugly utility box or help keep water clean.

When it’s in the front yard, the garden becomes part of the community. Like a dish at a potluck, it is there for all to enjoy. It might take a few years before our new boulevard garden truly looks good, but I’m enjoying spending time outside on these warm summer evenings and meeting the whole neighborhood.


Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water — — which includes Brown’s Creek, Carnelian Marine – St. Croix, Comfort Lake – Forest Lake, Middle St. Croix, Ramsey Washington-Metro, Rice Creek, South Washington and Valley Branch Watersheds, Cottage Grove, Dellwood, Forest Lake, Lake Elmo, Stillwater, West Lakeland and Willernie, Washington County and the Washington Conservation District. Contact her at 651-275-1136 ext.35 or email [email protected]