Monday, April 18, 2011

Life in the 'Burbs: Dressing your mailbox for success

Welcome to the first (I think there might be more) installment of "Life in the 'Burbs" where I contemplate the strange things in suburban life that are so foreign to me.  I didn't grow up in the suburbs.  When I first got married, I jumped between apartments and base housing...much different from the suburbs.  When we bought our first home it was in Jacksonville, NC--I suppose it was TECHNICALLY in the suburbs, but it was a neighborhood of Marines and their families, so it was pretty much still like base housing except with more bills and less rules.  When we moved to TN, we bought a house in the suburbs--the REAL suburbs...where people act differently than all of the places I have lived before.  I love it here, but as a sociologist, it brings about a lot of questions.  I notice some quirks that I suppose are normal for suburbanites, but I'm not a native.

There was a time in my life, before I moved to the 'burbs, when I thought that mailboxes were merely receptacles for receiving mail delivered by the USPS.  How silly!?!  Mailboxes are not just for getting your mail...apparently they are for showing off your landscaping skills (or, more likely, the landscaping skills of the landscaping company you hired to dress your formerly naked mailbox).  I don't know if status-symbol is the right word, but mailboxes in my neighborhood have something to prove!  I was thinking, while walking the dogs today, how humorous it is that people have taken this necessary, government-mandated box and turned it into a fashion statement of the front yard.  All mailboxes (and their surrounding areas) are not created equal.  But what makes a good mailbox?  I truly have no idea...but I did take the opportunity to walk just a few houses up the street to document some of the mailbox ornamentation in my little neck of the 'burbs.  Please forgive the lack of quality in these photographs...I felt a little silly walking around taking pictures of mailboxes so I was trying to be inconspicuous.  (On a sidenote, I think this would be a great idea of a coffee-table book--I called it.  Can I get a copyright on that?  I'll get to work as soon as this pesky PhD is out of the way.)

This is our mailbox, poor thing.  The mailbox landscaping came with the house.  But the box itself is falling over and is being overtaken by that bush that we keep trimming back but won't let up.  That little dogwood looks like it might be on its last leg, or should I say branch.  Those white flowers are pretty, but they are taking over, too.  We have a single tulip holding down the perennial fort.  Some of the monkey grass is new since we've been here.  We have no idea what to do with this thing.  We really need some fresh mulch, though.

This, I think, represents a mailbox that has it all.  Residents are obviously well-read (note the newspaper-box-thing).  You also have your classy Japanese Maple, some tulips, some irises (I think that's what they are) and some monkey grass...all encompassed in nice rocky line with mulch.

Here we have your big-time-mailbox-landscaping example.  Look at that mailbox, standing strong on a freshly-painted post-thing.  Complete with your colorful flowers, complimenting the landscape of the larger yard, and your bold monkey grass, all held together with rock and mulch.

I feel like this mailbox landscaper came from our school of thought.  I'm not sure that they knew exactly WHAT to do with the mailbox's yard, but they knew it was something.  So they planted this azalea (I think) around the mailbox and let it be.  Notice the symmetry with a similar bush on the other side of the driveway.

Similar to the specimen two pictures above, this mailbox landscaper went bold, but held off on the color.  Strong, upstanding mailbox in and of itself, it is complemented with a couple varieties (careful not to overdo it) of greenery with some new mulch and brick fence.

A fan of irises (and difficult to contain monkey grass), this mailbox landscaper also welcomes visitors with the garden flag--nice touch to make your mailbox feel homey. 

Woah!  This mailbox landscaping is in need of some TLC (I think--but of course it is quite possible I'm totally wrong).  What probably began with some crisp and defined greenery is spilling over a bit.  I picture the different plants fighting for the attention of the mailbox.  Clearly, this specimen has potential but needs some control.

A common sight in our neighborhood...the brick mailbox.  These pieces of yard ornamentation allow for additional landscaping around them or for the mailbox to boldly stand on its own, as if saying "Dude, I'm made of brick.  I don't need no landscapin'."

Now we move to the somewhat common "there's supposed to be something here, but what?" mailbox landscaping.  I'm glad our little area was filled in when we bought our house...otherwise, our mailbox would likely fall into this category or be extremely tacky with mis-matched plants because, again, we don't know what to do with these things.  I'm thinking of suggesting an HOA meeting on the topic.  People need to know what's expected of their suburban mailboxes.

Oh...this poor guy didn't get the memo. 

Am I the only one dorky enough to notice these things?!?  This is important stuff here.  Urban sociologists, move over--I'm going to dive into the subfield of SUBurban sociology...


  1. Bhahahahahhahahahhaha!

    I grew up in the desert. Literally. Two houses on our street not anywhere near each other surrounded by desert. Dirt road. Our mailbox was on the other side of our dirt road from our house to make it easier for the mailman to just drop off the mail. (which I never understood bc he had to turn his mail truck around to go out the dead end road anyway)

    When I moved to TN (haha), I noticed the same as you. :)

    Pittsburgh mostly has the old boxes still attached to the houses by the front doors.


  2. hahahhaha. my parents live in the burbs and one in that neighborhood does that stuff. however we have a lot of snow so it is more than likely that your mailbox will be destroyed by a snowplow every winter so there's no point in making the area pretty.

  3. My parents live in the suburbs in Orange County. Their mailbox (which is in a community mail area) is all neatly landscaped with a terrace covered vines that grow purple flowers. Very Classy stuff

  4. You're totally right. There is a mailbox landscaping code. But mine is still in a no man's land. Maybe someday I'll be grown up enough to make it an Official Mailbox...

  5. I notice little things like that as well ... our little box (shared by 3 homes) is shaded by a tree, but that is as landscaped as it will get. growing up my parents had landscaping around the mailbox ... it attracted bees ... I'm terrified of bees ... I refused to get the mail unless it was winter, or raining ;)

  6. YAY! I'm so glad I'm not alone here. :) Thanks so much for keeping me company in mailbox land!