Just Over The Fence

By Teo Spengler | May 17, 2021
Image by welcomia
by Teo Spengler
May 17, 2021

I have a reasonably nice garden with certain elements I really like, including a cottage garden atmosphere where flowers and veggies happily spill over each other in raised beds. My tomatoes overflowed their teepee last summer, my Meyer lemon overflows with big, canary yellow fruit. Birds tweet their way to the birdfeeder and two fat squirrels have taken up residence in the bougainvillea.

I am happy with my garden, walking out in the morning. But when I climb up the ladder and look over the 10 foot fence to the other side, my insides slowly fill up with envy. Just over the fence is the garden of my dreams.

My Cottage Garden

I really like my garden, don’t get me wrong. I like the way the geraniums and California poppies light up the lettuce patch, the big banks of succulents with crazy blooms, the potted lemon tree. I love my hanging baskets of herbs, blossoms and cascading succulents, my hammock and the four avocado trees growing in the compost pile. 

But my neighbor’s garden – just over the fence – has all the same features, plus other elements I can only dream of. This includes my gardener’s heart’s desire: trees in the backyard.

Trees in the Backyard

Now I have claimed in other blogs that trees cannot grow in my neighborhood because it was built on sand dunes. And this certainly applies to me. I have tried planting a dozen different species of trees and, while a few of them are still hanging in there, the rest died, quickly or less quickly.

But the bitter truth is this: my neighbor has trees. Not just run-of-the-mill trees, but cool trees. She has a lovely California buckeye, a towering monkey puzzle tree and an entire grove of oak. Her hammock is stretched between two oak trees, while mine relies on a hook on the fence. She tells me she dug huge holes in the sand years ago, put in great soil and planted the trees there. But understanding how she did it doesn’t lessen my profound sense of envy.

Water Features 

This is urban San Francisco, and most backyards just don’t have room for swimming pools. That is part of the price you pay for big city living. But this lack of major water features doesn’t hit everyone equally. 

My cottage garden has, as water features, three different wildlife water dishes, one for birds, one for insects and one for raccoons. My neighbor, on the other hand, has a small, gurgling fountain that attracts every bird from the area to come over to bathe. The sound of flowing water creates a sense of peace and serenity I share vicariously when I lie in my own backyard and listen carefully to the gurgle from over the fence.

Bigger, Better Crops

To make matters worse – much worse!- my neighbor always gets better crops than I do. I am a vegetarian and try to produce half of my summer produce in my own garden. And I do well. This year my tomatoes were fabulous, my summer squash amazing, my greens exceptional. 

But my neighbor’s are always better. And more interesting. I planted salad, spinach and chard. Her veggie garden includes bok choy, sorrel and Chinese cabbage. My herb garden includes basil, parsley and thyme. Hers includes herbs I’ve never even heard of. I have one Meyer lemon tree; compare this with her fruit trees: one apple, one pear, two citrus and a kiwi that spreads across the fence. 

Her flowers seem to last forever. Her roses are big as fists. Her blueberries fill baskets. All of her fences are filled with climbing plants. But I take heart in one saving fact: the only two squirrels in the neighborhood still prefer to live in my cottage garden than her superb creation. That means something.

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