The spaces retain their own identity but are connected by two gates and a network of paths. The neighbors feel at ease in one another’s landscape and, moreover, revel in the psychological linkage of the spaces.
“I think I’ve got the prettiest view,” said Steve McMaster. “To Bill’s garden, through the moon gate.”
“It really is a nice feeling to be able to go between yards,” said Eppard, “and not be so confined in a such a small space.”
Common landscapes are not uncommon in condos and apartments across the Washington area — the District has many communal rooftop gardens hidden from street level — but it is much harder to find individual homeowners willing to fudge their lot lines.
Eppard and McMaster like that they can go between their houses without using the street. “It’s much more private, and for running around for a cup of coffee, it’s perfect,” said Eppard.
Shared spaces need neighbors who get along, stay put and aren’t territorial. If you need to draw up a contract to make the arrangement work, it’s probably not for you. Eppard’s advice? Think about it. “If you’re good friends and plan to stay put, yeah.”
Now mature and with most of the construction elements done, the gardens have become a place for relaxation and tinkering. The sunny northernmost garden functions as the communal tomato patch, the abundant fruit of the central kiwi vine will end up in everyone’s kitchen, and the respective pets are free range.
“The children, and the dogs and the cats, they made no distinction” between the yards, said Brian McMaster. He and his wife, Kathleen Strouse, have two sons, 11 and 7, who found a small city yard something magically more expansive, ultimately leading to the fish and turtles in the garden of Eppard and his partner, Chuck Fiorentino. This is a horticultural jewel, stuffed with layers of specimen trees, shrubs and potted plants. Eppard, an inveterate plantsman, has raised a collection of choice Japanese maple varieties and has managed to find room for a fish pond with a waterfall and aquatic plantings. The pinnacle plant is a slow-growing weeping blue atlas cedar, now more than two decades old and trained, bonsai-like, into a curtain of blue-gray needles.
The shared arrangement comes into its own during parties. Guests can find a quiet corner to talk or smoke. During one surprise party, they assembled in one garden before entering another.
For these neighbors, the sense of togetherness was reinforced by their common need to fix up their houses.