Tranquility tips for reducing noise pollution in the garden

Make your garden a haven of serenity with a few simple steps.

I read an article recently about reducing residential noise pollution. The writer suggested that people should eliminate as many noisy appliances as possible from their garden sheds, but in the next paragraph suggested introducing “pleasant” noises, such as whirligigs and windchimes, to drown out what we didn’t want to hear. If you are my neighbour, please don’t get either. I would rather listen to your chain saw.

I thought when I moved to the country it would be quiet. There was a rule in our little rural enclave nobody could mow their lawn on a Sunday, only the extremely wealthy had outdoor stereo speakers, children did not have quad bikes and the boom box hadn’t been invented.

There were other noises, of course. Cows, for example. And worse, ones who had been separated from their calves and mourned noisily and continuously for three or four nights.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in the US, people regularly exposed to loud sounds experience elevated stress levels, depression and lost sleep and productivity. Some cities are issuing tough laws to get residents to be quiet.

In Richmond, Virginia, it’s illegal to cause a noise disturbance that can be heard 15m away. In New York City, dog owners are subject to fines of up to $175 if their pets bark for more than 10 minutes.

This afternoon, most of the noise I can hear is my own. On our two-acre block, surrounded by orchards and with the only two neighbours at least 700m away, I can hear: Birds singing, bees, the cat purring, a computer whirring, water running, a pump working, a neighbour’s ride-on mower, a digger working on a property about 5km away, neighbours’ goats and cicadas. None of this bothers me much.

But there have been times, and will no doubt be more, when the noise level from power tools and machines hugely offended me. I have a very low tolerance for unpleasant noise and am often to be seen running down our driveway waving my arms like a maniac and shouting “shut up!” at a car driving past with a noisy stereo.

I have considered heavily planting the road verge to reduce noise both coming in and going out, but research has shown landscape planting will not significantly reduce the noise that’s being made. In order to be effective, a dense planting of tall evergreens would need to be at least 15m wide. By the time I can grow anything that substantial, I will be too old to use power tools and too deaf to hear yours.

Tranquility tips

In the interim, I will take the following steps to reduce noise, if you will too:

  • Check the muffler on the mower. If buying a new one, consider whether a three-litre V8 with twin exhausts is necessary for 20m2 of lawn. Would one of those lovely clickety-clack hand mowers do the job? And I promise not to mow so often. I’ll just do the home zones weekly and let the orchard turn to meadow. Meadow and prairie gardens are very trendy, you know.
  • Edging the lawns with pavers or sunken timber sleepers that can be mown over will negate the need for a separate line trimmer or edger.
  • Put away the leaf blower. Either get a mulching mower or mow in a different direction so the clippings go back onto the lawn. Failing that, remember those bristly things with the long wooden handle? I think they were called brooms. They have a spiky cousin called a rake.
  • Hand-loppers work really well on shrubs. You can make far more judicious decisions and you’ll end up with a nicer shape than if you attack them with a power tool. Anyway, if a plant’s not blocking a view or the sun, leave the poor thing alone. Trimming doesn’t have to be a summer ritual.
  • Do you really need that silly petrol-driven cart to carry your mulch and shovel from one place to another? If you’re actually physically incapacitated and really need it, how about an electric one? Very trendy, very sustainable, very quiet.
  • A change of attitude will achieve three things. We will reduce noise. We will be slimmer and fitter. And finally, we will be right in fashion because, believe me, the perfect garden has had its day. Gardens always follow fashion and the slightly unkempt look is the current trend. So, as we say here in the quiet country, make hay while the sun shines.

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