Friendly Fence

Rain garden and living fence provide a soft way to split a lot between neighbors while managing roof runoff.

SunPart Shade








Sun, Part Shade

The Friendly Fence is a large rain garden with a twist. This design is ideal for two homeowners who would like to split or share a side lot. A serpentine hedge divides the lot - one side of the hedge has a rain garden while the other has a grassy mound. Both sides are designed to add color and beauty to the lot while also creating a stormwater solution so that neighbors can disconnect their downspouts and re-route this water into a shared, larger rain garden. This functioning landscape provides privacy from your neighbor while better managing stormwater.

The design has been sized to accommodate rainwater from up to two houses. The Friendly Fence is a planted mound and depression (or berm and swale) that captures, directs and stores stormwater. Soaking this water in on site prevents it from entering Detroit’s sewer system, and contributes to the health and well-being of our Great Lakes waterways. The plants in the Friendly Fence are a mix of native and non-native species, selected for beautification, habitat creation and for their wide availability.

Ideal Location: Residential lot in full sun to shade. (Between two houses is ideal)


The Friendly Fence is a high-impact, medium cost lot design. The majority of the cost of this design is from price of the plants, and based on utilizing volunteer and professional labor. Residents can save money by hand digging the rain garden, but keep in mind, a rain garden of this size could require a significant number of volunteers. The cost assumes that residents or volunteers have access to basic safety gear and garden tools.

The greatest potential cost saver is to use volunteers to dig the rain garden and then build the mound. Super Saver Tip: Use plant cuttings from a friend or neighbor to diversify the species in your fence! ‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangeas are easily propagated—simply clip a branch and place in dirt. If it is summer this can be next to plants or inside by a sunny window.

Green Infrastructure

This rain garden is designed to manage stormwater runoff from two standard single family houses in Detroit, or up to 4,200 square feet of roof area. The Friendly Fence is designed to prevent standing water or puddles from forming, with full-drainage completing within two days of standard rain events (We did this because mosquitos lay eggs that hatch at the three-day window!).

Vegetation and Visibility

This lot design is great for encouraging privacy between two neighbors, while providing a colorful, street-side view.


The installation of this lot design will require professional assistance for the first few steps. The Field Guide identifies volunteer opportunities if you, with the help and support of friends, family, or neighbors, would like to complete the planting portion of this lot design. Refer to the Step-By-Step section for guidance on the recommended professional and volunteer steps. If you do not feel able to tackle the volunteer aspect of this lot design, a professional can construct the entire project. Please note that digging the earthwork for the Friendly Fence requires quite a bit of physical effort –ten healthy adults, or youth, will have a vigorous weekend workout (or two!) creating the shape as it is identified in this lot design. Working with a landscape contractor to install this lot design is a flexible option that the Field Guide strongly encourages. If you have access to a car, expect at least one full day for plant purchasing, and depending on the size of your group, at least one full day for planting and mulching. If you collaborate with your contractor, perhaps you can select, transport and plant the plants, and your contractor can create the earthworks and deliver you the mulch—at 15 cubic yards, this is a little less than half of a truckload!

Build Time Estimate

Twenty hands or more! With the help of friends, family or neighbors, the volunteer-lead planting (and digging) part of this project could be completed in up to two weekends. The Field Guide assumes the lot is ‘construction ready,’ and all equipment and materials required for the lot design have been acquired and are ready to use.

Build Difficulty

Number of People Needed

Neighbor Labor

Time Taken to Build

Build Season

Transportation Intensity

Permit Requirements


This lot design requires a medium level of maintenance to thrive. Maintenance includes weeding and watering the newly planted rain garden, particularly during the first two growing seasons while the plants establish themselves. The Friendly Fence is a large rain garden and will require regular watering and weeding during establishment. To hinder the growth of weeds and reduce the amount of time you spend weeding, mulch should be added each year. Even after they are established, gardens remain works in progress. New bulbs or perennials may need to be replaced or changed to keep your garden dynamic and playful— be creative and make it your own.

Seasonal Upkeep Levels

  • Spring: Medium
  • Summer: Medium
  • Fall: Low
  • Winter: Low

Upkeep Frequency

Upkeep Skill Levels

Professional Assistance

Special Tools