My neighbors have been digging up shrubs and bushes from the shady corners of their backyard and transplanting them along our fence line where they’ll get direct sunlight for most of the day. Some of them are thriving, one either couldn’t take the heat or didn’t like the upheaval and died. A couple of hydrangea have ended up along the back of my property line where they will, hopefully, flourish in a way that they just weren’t in Chris and Gerry’s yard.
Last week I went out back and saw four matching shrubs in large black tubs strategically placed along the fence. The next time we were all outside I offered to dig the holes for them, my neighbor accepted and late Sunday afternoon I got to work. I slipped on gardening gloves, rolled the wheelbarrow over and retrieved my shovel. Moving the first shrub out of the way, using the tip of my spade, I outlined the area of matted and already yellowed grass I would dig up. With the help of my weight I forced the shovel into the earth and came up with a clump of grass, dirt and rocks. I continued digging until the hole was big enough to plant the compact bush.
Chris saw what I was doing and came out to help. Once I’d dug a hole, she loosened the soil around the sides and bottom with a gardening fork, mixing in fertilizer and compost. After placing the shrub in its new home she covered the area around it with dirt and mulch. We repeated these steps three times, working close to each other and talking about neighborly topics. Their kids were eight and twelve when I bought the house next to them; they’re now 26 and 29, professionals living on their own. Hard to believe the young boy who fed my cat when I went away for a weekend is a grown man practicing law. Chris recently cut back her work load in anticipation of retirement; she’s working 3 days a week and becomes practically giddy when talking about it. It was friendly chatter, nothing too deep or revealing from either one of us.
These neighbors have a dog they walk around our block and on nearby streets. I like to think that’s the reason Chris knows so much more than me about the goings on around us. I noticed the dog at the house on the corner had been missing from his spot in the yard; she knew the dog had a stroke, was rushed to the hospital and had to be put down. Seeing the young guy who bought the house across the street coming and going in scrubs tipped me off that he probably works in one of the local hospitals; she knows he’s an intern at Yale. And when that house across the street went into foreclosure I knew Patty, the owner, had died; Chris told me about her rare and aggressive illness, her many stays in the hospital, the date of her passing.
As we worked side by side, Rich, who lives in the house directly behind Chris and Gerry, appeared from behind his garage and walked into my backyard with a friendly smile and hello. Chris introduced us; I had never met this man who’s married with two kids and has lived behind us for a couple of decades. I’ve never seen anyone playing in the backyard, never seen anyone cooking dinner on the grill or eating on the deck. He had some business about a tree leaning into his garage to talk about; Gerry joined us and the three of them went over the options. I realized Rich lived next door to someone I know and across the street from another couple I’m friendly with. We made the connections while I dug, complimented each other on our yards, passed along names of handy men.
The more we talked the more I realized what a nice area I live in. Rich has looked into moving, has checked out bigger houses in other towns, but always comes back to our ‘hood – 1920’s Colonials with built-in nooks and shelves, sidewalks for kids on bikes and scooters, tree-lined streets that bloom pink, purple and white in the Spring. It was nice working in the yard with Chris, nice meeting my neighbor, feeling connected to my little section of the world. People have been bonding with their neighbors, talking over shared fences, for years. I did it with a shovel. Meanwhile, the reason for all the planting is to provide us all with more privacy. Ironic, no?