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The Suburban Gardener
by Maggie Mehr
In many newly built suburban neighborhoods, people encounter a serious landscaping problem. The land is clear cut of all trees and vegetation, leaving no screening for privacy or weather protection. Mother Nature gives us many ideas as well as does viewing older gardens. I could not find everything in books, but once I started planting in this manner, I realized that fields and farms held many of the ideas I needed to make my own landscape complete. Pictures of the fields and moors in England have become an inspiration; Hedgerow, after all, is an English invention.
My hedgerow has not fully matured yet, but I am happy to report that it is fulfilling its purpose and will continue to evolve, giving me the feeling of peace and privacy. When my family and I first moved into our home, we were confronted with an almost uninterrupted expanse of grass running from property line to property line, except for a row of old trees on one side of the backyard. Unlike the newer middle-class suburban neighborhoods, my fifty year old house at least had the row of trees and a beautiful Maple in the front yard.
Delineation was needed, but funds were limited, so we decided to do the work ourselves. The price of fencing was shocking even for the do-it-yourselfer. Buying enough evergreen hedging material for even one side of the back yard was beyond our means at the time. An alternative solution was needed.
I love gardening books...all kinds of gardening books. A trip to the local library has me coming out with a stack of books about two feet high and weighing as much as the average bag of mulch! The books that give more technical information about the plants themselves are good for specifics, but my favorites are photographs of other gardens. This is how I got most of my ideas for my own garden. But when it came to the problem of creating boundaries in the middle-class garden on limited funds...I could find no books addressing this particular issue. The gardens pictured, and even the do-it-yourself garden "plans", all had existing fences, walls, or hedges. I said to myself, "If I had a wall like that I would hardly need any help being inspired!" I could find no book that directly dealt with the problems we faced, so I started using materials that were on hand.
In the front yard there were many large rocks lying around and the lady across the street had just dug a swimming pool and had many large rocks to "give". Constructing approximately 18" high walls, I then dug serpentine shaped flower beds varying from four to eight feet deep, with the small rock walls backing them. This was done in the front yard, and edged with old bricks from a broken down barbecue.
I live on a typically small lot, with my neighbors too close for comfort. On one side of the backyard was the row of old trees, but the other side was another matter. We had a patio that we screened with lattice panels, but that still left the rest of the yard open. An arbor built out of the leftover lattice was placed about halfway down the yard, where I planted a climbing rose on each side and three clematis to twine with them. That became the central feature of what was to become a screen made up of many different plants and shrubs.
I planted two Lilacs and a Mountain Laurel (which are native to this part of New York) , in a "natural" staggered line, emanating from the central point of the arbor. I moved several Burning Bushes from the wooded side of the property to what was now becoming a bona- fide "hedgerow". A gardener on the Fine Gardening web site asked if any of my neighbors had Forsythia, because we had an uninterrupted expanse of grass running through there, and the forsythia is easy to root and would add nicely to a hedgerow. I had felt like they (the forsythia) were over-used and I had developed a (silly) disdain for them. But when the person made the suggestion, I pictured them as they would be someday and realized that they would be a lovely addition--and be perfectly utilized in the situation.
I have planted many perennials in front of... and along with the shrubs in the plantings , such as : Hollyhock, (which make a superb screen of their own in the summer months), Irises, Shrub Roses, Small Boxwoods (towards the front), Poppies, Campanula, and several groundcovers to "anchor" the whole thing. I grew many of these perennials from seed to further lessen the expense! It is an ongoing project and I get more ideas all the time to improve it and fill it out as I desire.

Copyright 1999 Maggie Mehr, All Rights Reserved.