Good fences, good neighbors and a thick patch of weeds

Good fences, good neighbors and a thick patch of weeds

If, as Robert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors,” the new guy to the south of me has high hopes for our relationship — six feet high as a matter of fact!

Listen, I won’t begrudge anyone their share of privacy. I mean who would wish to have an unimpeded view of a rapidly balding, shamelessly barefooted old guy wandering around the yard all summer long with a garden trowel in one hand and a watering can in the other? I’d probably put up a giant, fully obscuring stockade fence too if I moved in next to a guy like me.

My wife, in her infinite kindness and tolerance, suggested that rather than being salty about it, I should be thankful that he’d done it.

“I’m guessing that the fence is more about keeping things in than keeping things out,” Kristin said. “He probably just wants to keep from bothering us.”

Turns out she was right. A pair of yapping dogs and a gaggle of squealing, laughing children run the inside perimeter from sun up to sundown each day and the only thing about it that bothers us is wondering what sort of fun we’re missing!

In my own effort to encourage neighborliness, rather than allow the narrow space between the new monolith and my own, somewhat shaggy, welded wire fence to grow up in weeds, I would sow the gap thick with something lovely and relatively maintenance free.

Years ago, Kristin’s dad gave us an envelope filled with seeds. On the outside were his explicit, handwritten instructions for propagating a healthy stand of wild marigold along with the edict that we save the seeds each fall and start the whole process over again in the spring. I’ve religiously abided by Joe’s wishes each year since. Now, five years since his passing, I still have the envelope and refill it each fall with the fruits of the summer’s crop. Sentimental to a fault, I’ve saved every seed every year and each spring I struggle to find more space to get them all in the ground. Enter “the void” between the two fences!

I was so excited about the idea of surprising Kristin with an entire fencerow filled with her dad’s flowers, that I actually kept the project a secret until I knew I’d have a good stand. I weeded, watered and fertilized regularly, and by mid-July the plants were thigh-high and beginning to form flowering buds. I could contain the secret no longer and dragged her by the hand to view the soon-to-be spectacle.

Surprises are a wonderful thing — until they’re not. About a week after my big reveal the neighbor surprised me by taking his turn at addressing “all of those weeds” that had grown up between the fences. (One man’s flower is another man’s weed, right?)

I really had no one to blame but myself, as in my excitement to keep secret my hidden stand of Joe’s wild marigolds, I hadn’t told a soul — not even the guy who wished to be just as neighborly as me.

Good fences make good neighbors. This much is true; but sometimes a tiny bit of communication can get the job done just as well.

Kristin and John would love to hear from you. Write: Drawing Laughter, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627 or email John at