Good fences make good neighbors

Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” has still a lot of meaning. Originally people thought it meant that if farmers kept good fences their livestock would not cause any trouble for their neighbor farmers.

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.”

Actually Frost did not like a fence, he questioned the necessity of a barrier and only pointed out that neighbors are happy to be with each other and build a wall together, but after the wall is built it’s back to their individual life and the individual ‘I’ and ‘He’. Research economists at the University of California also decided that the old proverb is actually true. They have found that for every 10 % decrease in density or increase in space or privacy, the likelihood of residents talking to their neighbors, at least once a week, jumps by 10 %. Involvement in hobby-oriented clubs increases even more significantly – by 15 % for every 10 % decline in density. Most people like their privacy. Not everybody wants to see what their neighbor is doing or having to say 'good morning' every day.

But that is not all: To quote Caroline Westerhoff, the proverb contains the irresolvable tension between boundary and hospitality, between demarcation and common space, between individuality and collectivity, and between other conflicting attitudes that separate people from each other. Be it as neighbors, be it as villages or be it as nations.

So before you decide on that living hedge or fence ask yourself: What makes a good fence?

Here is a quick check what to look for.

  • Thuja occidentalis 'Pyramidalis' - A fast growing (up to 1ft per year) evergreen with low maintenance. Grows easily to 12-15 ft without much upkeep. Conical form and foliage will have a brownish-green color during the winter. The Thuja o. 'Smaragd' or Emerald Green is more pointed and the foliage stays deep green year-round. Space 2-4 ft apart. Needs sunny location.
    Cupressocyparis leylandii. Fast growing: up to 3 ft per year to a height of up to 20 ft. May need some pruning. Dark green foliage. Space 4-6 ft apart. Sunny location. Cupressocyparis l. ‘Castlewellan’ works just as well and will give you interesting golden variegated foliage!
  • Laurel hedges: Prunus laurocerasus - English laurel, grows up to 4 ft per year, needs at least a strong pruning once a year. A better variety is the improved version: Prunus l. ‘Compacta’ which is a nice dark green, branches better and grows about 3 feet per year. Can be grown in light to moderate shady location. A hard to find Prunus lusitanica - Portugal laurel is the best of them all, but grows slower, dark green and low maintenance. For low hedges consider: Prunus l.‘Otto Luyken’
  • Taxus - Yews or Tsuga canadensis - Canadian Hemlock. Well known in the past, you will likely see these around older houses. Needs a yearly pruning. Both can grow to 10 -12 ft.
  • Ilex crenata - Japanese Holly and Buxus - Boxwood are ideal for lower hedges.
  • For taller screens: Thuja plicata - Western Red Cedar.

And do not forget Roberts Frost’s advice:

 “Before I built a wall I'd ask to know:
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.”


Print Article


Article as printed in Herald ad on 04/05/2007


< Return to Topics & Articles Page

9322 196th Street SE, Snohomish, WA, 98296  (In Maltby)
Phone: (425) 481-7565 or (360) 668-9575