Speaking of the NWF…


…as we have this week, I've been meaning to share this little gem from Dear Abby. It's so rare that she gets a gardening letter!  

Dear Abby,

I have very nice neighbors who believe in leaving the wild and natural growth on their property. They have posted a sign that claims it to be a “certified natural habitat.” They never weed or cut anything back. At first, it was cared for, but now it has become an eyesore.

I have tried to grow border plants to hide the mess, but nothing seems to help. I believe it affects the value of our home. My husband doesn’t want me to say anything for fear of hurting their feelings. We don’t live in a rural area where this might be more acceptable.


Thorn in Our Side

Abby's response begins, "Dear Thorn, Who certified your neighbors' yard as a 'natural habitat?'"

Yes, who indeed?

Just for fun, why don't you be Dear Abby for a day, and write your answer to Thorn in Our Side?  You can read Abby's full response here.



  1. I get being concerned about property value, especially if they’re planning to sell in the near future. That said: what business is it of theirs what their neighbors do with their property. Build a fence if the sight bothers them that much and get over it.

  2. I gotta agree with Noadi above. If they’re concerned about selling the house RIGHT NOW, then sure, talk to the neighbors about mowing. We have a habitat strip that gets edged but not mown, surrounding a large blackberry thicket as it does, and when one of the neighbors was selling their house, they asked us to mow it, so we did. No sweat, problem solved. The new neighbors have lived there for years and never complain. (Since the guy on the other side of us has trucks up on blocks and carries his falcon on the wrist to get the mail, we are the LEAST of anyone’s concerns…)

    Otherwise, suck it up. The neighbor’s yard doesn’t belong to you, it’s not causing any harm, and if you hate the view, build a fence.

  3. Dear Thorn: Without seeing an actual photo of your neighbor’s property, who am I to judge? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Have you tried talking to your neighbor? People used to do things like this all the time, although I know it’s fallen out of fashion now.

    You might find if you talk to them that they are very nice people, and that they’d like to talk to you about the lethal chemicals that you’ve been using on your lawn.

  4. Need a picture!!!

    Monet was reviled at first.

    Picasso too.

    Was the letter written to Dear Abbey with no words spoken to the ‘offending’ garden owner?

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  5. I live in the Northwestern Illinois region and these are the two organizations that homeowners in my town or the large city next to me have yard placard’s posted. I personally have a in town third of an acre, four-foot gothic picket fence, pond with waterfall (neighbors complain too loud) native plantings, raised beds, and compost bin a.k.a. six-foot dog run. I call it a cottage garden but my adult kids say it’s a park.
    Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat
    Whether you have an apartment balcony or a 20-acre farm, you can create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore habitat in commercial and residential areas. By providing food, water, cover and a place for wildlife to raise their young you not only help wildlife, but you also qualify to become an official Certified Wildlife Habitat.
    The new Ecospace program emphasizes certifying yards based on the degree of natural landscaping and the overall sustainability of the landscape. More than just learning the basics, the Wild Ones Member Certification Program starts people thinking about, and working on, community awareness and advocacy in general – and promoting the ideals of Wild Ones.
    Unlike other yard certification programs, the Wild Ones Ecospace Certification Program looks at the big picture, to get members, their families, their friends, and their neighbors thinking about making environmentally sound changes in their yards.
    Under the program, yards and green spaces are certified based on the amount of native plants and natural landscaping in use, and the overall sustainability of the landscape.
    Ecospace is a great way for homeowners, business owners, as well as municipalities and other not-for-profit organizations to show what they are doing for biodiversity.

  6. As a child growing up, the yard next door was a mess. Back yard hardly ever cut. Compacted bare dirt patches everywhere. Since then, my wife and I have lived in four different houses, and every time at least one adjoining neighbor’s yard was/is an eye-sore, while our’s has many well-maintained gardens. I have never complained to my neighbors. Why not? Because some people love to garden, and some people hate any kind of yard work. Relationship with my neighbors has always been more important than what their yards look like.

  7. I echo the sentiments above–there is just nothing you can do–it is their property. I don’t love my neighbor’s “landscaping” (or lack thereof), but he is a great neighbor who has helped me out on many occasions and waters my mammoth vegetable garden when I vacation.
    I do find the English ivy coming through the fence a great annoyance, especially since I am allergic and don’t dare cut it myself again. That said, I prefer his wild and wooly yard over a perfectly manicured lawn devoid of life and full of chemicals.
    If there is a vermin “problem” you can do something, otherwise, you just have to keep on planting.

  8. I do sympathize a bit. I’ve said before on this blog that while I do love native plantings and natural gardens there is a way to make them look beautiful and in place with your neighbors yards. Being wildlife certified does not have to mean looking a hot mess. It used to fill me with rage to read about angry neighbors or town and neighbor ordinances going after people and then I would see photos of the yard in question and think “Yeash. I wouldn’t want to live across from that either.”

    I think you need to have an awareness of your surroundings. In a more rural area an unkempt yard may fit in just fine. But if you are surrounded by tidy little landscapes I think you should consider putting your best face forward. Consider hiring a garden designer to create an attractive landscape that can still be wildlife certified. Use some attractive native shrubs to screen your wildest areas from the neighbors sight. It might also help you to conceal those (ugly) little tidy yards from your sight. A win for everyone.

    If you get rid of your lawn and create something beautiful in its place you may just get your neighbors to follow your example. If you create an eyesore you will just get grief and complaints.

  9. I try to keep my front yard looking tidy (even though it is unconventional) but the backyard is my playground, so I surrounded it in shrubs. A civil discussion with the neighbor is a possibility, as is a call to the city re weed ordinances (ours exempts rain gardens). Or one could just live and let live.

  10. I think that talking to your neighbor is first in order. I have been struggling with my neighbor’s weeds invading my yard. Between binweed, ivy, periwinkle, and blackberries and very healthy grapes I catch myself pulling, and pulling, and pulling half of the stuff from their yard out from under our fence. Any advice?

  11. This cracks me right up. It might have been written by my neighbor (retired Marine), who keeps his yard under strict control. We don’t mow our lawn but it never gets tall, just a bit hummocky (which the pheasants like). Still, he finds it an eyesore. But knowing that we aren’t going to mow it, he has instead resorted to telling us to wash our car. He’s a really good guy; we just have different ideas about such things. I’m pretty sure we are the “damn hippies” of the neighborhood.

  12. Dear Thorn:
    You must live in a nicer neighborhood than me. And by nicer, I mean more expensive. In my neighborhood, people who keep their music down and restrict their junky rv storage to the backyard are good neighbors. People who talk to their neighbors, including politely discussing landscaping are nice neighbors. Actually, maybe my neighborhood is nicer than yours.
    Talk to your neighbor and politely ask them whether the mess is for the wildlife, or if they just need some help keeping up with the yardwork.

  13. Dear Thorn
    Now maybe the time for you to listen to your husband for once.
    You say that your neighbors are nice people. What more could you want?

  14. Dear Thorn,
    Thank your lucky stars one of those urban farmers hasn’t moved in next door compleat with pygmy goats, rabbits, chickens and home butchering workshops. Always making compost, building bread ovens, saving their rainwater……..

  15. Surely there’s a middle ground somewhere? The writer commented that the neighbors started out taking care of it, but have since just let it go. It would seem the writer was okay with it while it was being cared for, but does not care for the weedy mess it has become. Talking to the neighbors does seem in order. Maybe they’ve had some sort of health crisis, and would appreciate some help.

  16. Dear Abby is a bit of a…I’m too polite to say. Who the heck thinks a HOA is preferable to having a conversation with admittedly nice neighbors? The whole letter and response just seem upper-middle-classy in a way I find hard to take given what most of the people in this country are going through right now. Maybe the neighbor is dealing with something similar. Maybe they are going through hard economic times, or an illness. Maybe a sick parent has needed care, or they’ve lost someone they loved dearly. The most neighborly thing to do would be to find out, and to offer some help. Figure out what is the most bothersome/invasive/eyesore-causing part of the garden and address that part to start with. Try having some compassion, and do something few people do these days: consider that someone else’s problems might currently be more important than your aesthetic desires.

    Wow – this made me so angry I’m thinking of sending a letter to Dear Abby myself!

  17. Why do people assume us “rural folks” like looking at a messy yard ? I am ” very blessed” with a neighbor who has every vehicle he ever owned in his 7 acre yard, a large brush pile so old saplings are growing in it and a large pine that was wind damaged and broken in 2004 and has been dead since 2010 and a scrapyard of metal stuff. I would rather have the natural habitat. So if you think you have it bad there is always someone who has it worse.

  18. The varying opinions on what “wild” is in these responses shows that we all have different tastes. An overgrown lawn or bare mud spots (I think we had the same neighbors growing up) just sounds like neglect. The subject of the letter sounds like they take care, just not conventional care of their “habitat.” The probably don’t have grass at all. I live in the Northwest, with Doug Firs,ferns and dry shade plants in the back, nothing but perennials (lots of ground cover that’s green year-round) in the front. My next door neighbors have what I’m sure they think is the perfect lawn; chemical green and manicured to a T. They also run every power tool known to man on the weekends, and there is never moment I can count on to enjoy a cup of coffee in my garden without hearing the leaf blower, lawn mower or power washer (they have the cleanest driveway you’ve ever seen…there may be some OCD involved as well). I’m certain they hate my relaxed style; I hate the fact that their pesticides blow into my space.Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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