Amber Khan and her neighbor Jeanne Philbin of Silver Spring have a shared vegetable garden, seen here. (Jeffrey O'Connor/The Washington Post)

In the Indian Spring neighborhood of Silver Spring, the loss of a gloomy, messy maple tree a few years ago got Amber Khan and her neighbor Jeanne Philbin thinking about installing a shared vegetable garden.

“Jeanne and I were standing in the front yard, and we thought, ‘We’ve got all this beautiful sunlight. Let’s use this for a garden,’ ” said Khan. Philbin’s husband, Ole Varmer, worried that a veggie plot out front might look a bit messy.

The idea seemed shelved until Varmer and Khan’s husband, Vivek Chopra, surprised their spouses for Christmas — announcing they had hired Silver Spring landscape designer Edamarie Mattei to plan and install a decorative plot spanning their properties.

The result is a small garden of raised beds, framed by ornamental cedar trellising. Installed this spring and just 20 feet square, it provided the families with salad greens, kale and peas earlier in the growing season. The late summer garden produces other harvests of tomatoes, carrots, Malabar spinach, onions and beans. Potatoes are developing in pots, and the gardening neighbors are trying a tropical annual named amaranth, grown for its leaves and seeds.

The raised beds look good and allowed the gardeners to avoid excavating all the old maple roots, said Mattei, whose company is called Backyard Bounty.

Philbin is the seasoned gardener, Khan the pupil.

“For me, it’s been amazing to watch and learn about the process, and for my kids,” said Khan, whose sons are 11 and 5.

The neighbors have no written agreement to divide up the tasks of sowing, watering, weeding, mulching or harvesting. They just get on with it.

As for the issue of one of the families moving: “It just doesn’t come up,” said Philbin. She has lived in her current home for about 10 years, her neighbors for five.

“And everything disassembles,” said Mattei, laughing.

More from Adrian Higgins

Read: How three D.C. homeowners created a common urban oasis.

— Photos: Check out a gallery of the three shared backyards.

How it works: Adrian Higgins breaks down the layout of the space in detail in this illustration.

Live chat: Higgins will chat about the concept of shared yards at noon on Thursday.

Video: Higgins talks about reaping the rewards of summer and preparing for fall in a new installment of his series on his community garden plot.

Homegrown: To learn more about planting your own vegetable gardens, go to