Do “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”?

picket fence

On a recent walk, huffing and puffing my way uphill and down, I found myself noticing fences and walls and the frequent lack thereof.

If you haven’t read Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, since high school or middle school, you may have forgotten that it wasn’t Frost who declared that, “Good fences make good neighbors.” His neighbor was the one who said it.

The wall between Frost’s property and his neighbor’s was built of boulders. In the spring the two men got together and replaced the bounders that fell down during the fall and winter.

But Frost, feeling mischievous, decided to challenge his neighbor’s belief in the need for a wall. His apple trees weren’t about to cross over and eat the pine cones on the neighbor’s pine trees. And neither of them had cows.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” he says in the poem.

And his neighbor repeated the saying he learned from his father: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

rock wall terraces

On my walk, the only rock walls I saw were for terracing a hillside.

low fence

The house above has a small decorative fence.

fence between houses

This fence provides privacy between houses that are built close together.

back yard fence

Some homeowners build fences around their back yards.

no fence

But probably the majority of the houses I walked past were wide open in the front.

high hedge

One house was different from all the rest, though. It’s hidden on all sides behind a twenty-foot-high hedge. There must be an entrance or a place to peek in and see the house, but I haven’t found it. Perhaps the homeowner learned from his father that, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Are you a fan of fences and walls?

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She's working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early '90s.
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  1. For those of us who have neighbors with untrained barking dogs, a sound proof fence would make an even better neighbor. 🙂 I’ve always been partial to using shrubs for privacy.

  2. Traveller at heart

    It is easier to be friendly with your. neighbour if neither of you trespasses upon the other’s property or privacy. This is so true of Brits.

    This appeared on a blog ‘Expats Wanted – Apply Within’ . ? Best friends forever!!

    • Thank you for steering me to “Expats Wanted–Apply Within.” Janey has a good sense of humor. I signed up for her blog and “liked” her Facebook page. I also read and enjoyed her post: “Bad Neighbors.”

  3. The variety of fences is very interesting, Nicki. Great photos! My brother’s house has shrubs separating his property from the neighbor’s. At certain times of the year, the shrubs look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, thanks to the deer that stop by for a snack.

    • Arborvitae trees, Leyland cypress and such are nice for privacy screen. But some of the plants that are used for hedges can become monsters. We had a couple of those planted in the yard of a house we bought. They weren’t supposed to be a hedge, just a couple of plants. When they got too big, I trimmed them. They only grew faster and thicker until the branches were too thick for me to cut. I finally had to find someone with a chain saw.

  4. Excellent post, Nicki. Such an interesting topic. Sometimes I wonder how two neighbours can agree on a fence if they have to share the fence that divides their property. “Good fences make good neighbours”. Maybe, maybe not. I suppose it depends on how much control you have over your fence…and of course how much you have to shell out for it. In Australia, it is not uncommon for two houses sharing one fence to split the cost for building or renovating it. Things can get touchy this way if both have different ideas for their ideal fence.

    • I think my sister and the family behind her split the cost on a fence. He was remodeling his whole house, so he had some very definite ideas about how the fence would look. But she also had some requirements. She wanted some of her favorite plants to be able to climb up her side of the fence. It’s good when people can work these things out. Every once in a while, you hear about people who have decades-long feuds with their neighbors. One story I heard was of someone who sneaked down when the neighbors were gone and cut down their trees to improve his view. Trees blocking the view is a big point of dissension.

      • It really is good to hear your sister working out the fence with the neighbour. Some of us can get very possessive over our territory and we want the aesthetics of our residence based on our tastes. Ah yes, trees blocking the view. I suppose some don’t like too many trees because that may attract insects that may bite. But some really don’t mind that.

  5. Last fall we fenced in a portion of our backyard because of extensive deer damage. I was hesitant because it’s 6′ tall and looks like a cemetery fence. I’ve grown to love it as it also keeps out some other larger wildlife. (If only it would keep out the raccoons!) As Jill said I am partial to using shrubs for privacy. We have used those too. In fact you can barely see our fence except at the gate.

    • I think on my walk I missed most of the fences because they were in the back yard. I should have walked down the alley.

      In a previous house, we were more out in the country, so we had deer and raccoons to contend with. I never saw a cougar in the yard, but that doesn’t mean one didn’t come sneaking in. I tried planting things the deer weren’t supposed to like, but as you know, they don’t always have the same taste in plants. As for raccoons, I had a fight with one once. He was eating our cherries. I tried to shoo him away; I threw pebbles; I brought out the broom. As you may have guessed, I only succeeded in making him mad. It’s hard to win a fight with a raccoon.

  6. Our fences are 6 feet, made of cinderblocks. They keep our dogs out of the neighbors’ yards. Can you imagine if they didn’t? Ugliness!

    • When we lived in the Philippines where we and all our neighbors had high walls, ours with broken glass on top, we had a pair of delightful English beagles. Despite the walls and the gate, the male, Bullet, found a few opportunities to run away. I’m sure he had a marvelous time before we found him and brought him back. He wouldn’t have caused any harm to anyone, but he may have impregnated a few of the neighbor dogs. (The puppies would have been adorable.)

  7. “To do exactly as your neighbors do is the only sensible rule.” ~ Emily Post

    Who knew that Emily Post could be so sarcastic?

    She was being sarcastic, right?

    • Is that saying a sister of “You can’t fight city hall?” Or maybe of: “When in France, do as the French do.”

      I’ll go with not being sarcastic. Since she’s talking about sensible, not good or right, she probably has a point, although I would add: in unimportant things…

  8. Here most houses have fences. Some older buildings still got their original metal fences which are sometimes even protected due to their old age and design.
    I would prefer myself later to have an open front lawn and the back to be protected by a huge hedge

    • Your preference is nice, especially for a family with children, so you can have privacy for an outdoor meal or for the children to play. When our oldest daughter was a toddler, we had my uncle build a low fence around the front yard so she could play without getting out onto the street and so the neighbor dogs wouldn’t jump on her. I was surprised, though, at how much a fence costs, even a low fence.

  9. We have a chain link fence. We planted Japanese Silver Leaf on the outside which allows us more privacy during the summer months as this part of the fence is between our yard and the cul de sac. I truly wish I had a good privacy fence on the other side of my property! (Let’s just say there is a huge difference between friendliness and intrusion.) Have thought of planting something there…definitely regret pulling up all of the shrubbery that was there when I moved in.

    • I just looked up Japanese silver leaf. The pictures show yellow flowers on a silvery plant. Very pretty.

      Being a writer and a bit of an introvert, I do need my privacy. But I also like watching what’s going on around me and having brief friendly conversations with the neighbors. I’m lucky that I live in a quiet, friendly neighborhood. I have a four-foot privacy fence around my little patio, and that serves me well.

  10. Some fences add a nice decorative touch but too many are homely. When we moved out to the country, some of our land had been pasture land with barb-wire fencing. When we built our house one of our first chores was removing that fencing. Dangerous and ugly!

  11. Love the pictures of all those different fences! I grew up in the countryside where fences were rarer and not as high as in cities. In cities it makes sense to have higher fences, I guess, since houses are closer together.

    • I think in my small city, most people like to present a welcoming face to the street and keep their back yard more private. When we moved to the Philippines, we found that the attitude was quite different. Although we lived in a suburban setting, most of the houses there were surrounded by high walls, some with broken glass on top.

  12. That’s all lovely if your neighbor doesn’t have an out of control dog. We just built a six foot fence to save my gardens from our (rude) neighbors who think their roaming mutt is cute. He’s not cute and what he does (and leaves) in my yard is unforgivable. Thanks for letting me rant.

    • When I lived in the country west of Port Angeles, my trouble was dogs that chased me when I tried to go for a walk. Some of them seemed quite vicious. Walks should be relaxing, but when you’re worried about the next dog who’s going to run after you, a walk can be a tense, unpleasant way to get some exercise. I’m so happy that the people in Edmonds follow the leash laws and that for the most part they pick up after their dogs. Your neighbors are not good neighbors. Too bad you had to be the ones to build and pay for the fence to keep their dog out.

  13. Good question. Of course, the politically correct response is to say “no walls, no fences, no barriers,” but I’m American damn it 😛 and I like my privacy. I think open front yard and a private back yard makes sense. It depends a lot of your neighbors too. I’m sure people don’t like dogs running on their front lawn/garden and taking a poop, or kids running into it. And if some people have small children, they might want a wall or high fence to keep their children in. So many choices and so many reasons!

    • Good points, Lani. And I agree on every one. It definitely depends on your neighbors. Right now I live in the perfect place for a minimum of fences. I don’t have small children; everyone in town obeys the dogs-on-leash laws; they pick up their dog’s litter; and my neighbors are quiet, mature, and friendly. Do good fences make good neighbors, or do good neighbors make fences less necessary?


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