Privacy fences, those lackluster barriers found to be essential in so many city neighborhoods, keep out prying eyes while marking property lines. Linda Svec is experimenting with a new idea for improving the looks of those fences while allowing for a more practical and efficient use of space. Her solution: rain gutter gardens.
"Privacy fences are ugly," she says, "and everybody has them."
Her idea is that people can attach the long, narrow rain gutters to fences, or hang them as planters from overhead trellis supports, and use them as planters. That creates vertical gardens in previously unused spaces while beautifying fences.
Svec, who has lived near St. Joseph Hospital for more than 20 years, lists other benefits. Using recycled materials is environmentally friendly, and if arranged well and painted, the gutters add a decorative element to the yard. And although plants in the gutters need to be watered often, they use much less water than an in-ground garden.
Svec has painted hers a rich blue, to match the cobalt bottles on a tree in her back yard.
Gutter placement can vary from a comfortable shoulder height for people who have trouble bending, to just a few feet from the ground, easily reachable by children. In Svec's case, that would be grandchildren Ginny, 3, Ryanne, 9, and Nathan, 17.
Ginny likes the creeping jenny, with vines that trail down from the end of one gutter, because it sounds like her name. Strawberries in pots below the gutters also are great attractions for the children.
A preschool teacher who helped found the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton preschool, Svec is attuned to bringing children and nature together. With her husband, Jim Svec, who built some of the original hardscape at the Arboretum on Alumni Drive, she had their home certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. That required verifying that food, water and nesting shelter were available. As if to prove that point, the enormous maple tree in front of the house is filled with chattering birds.
Linda Svec also is a member of Friends of the Arboretum. She is on the board of directors and has special interest in the year-old Children's Garden.
"It was a good fit for me," she says. "There exists a whole generation of folks who know nothing about gardening."
The gutter gardens are yet another way to reverse that trend. Svec has hung three sections, attaching them with gutter hangers to her wooden stockade fence and filling them with a variety of herbs, including basil and thyme; colorful annual flowers; and leaf lettuce, sprouted from seed.
"It was wasted space," she says, "and now it is well used."