If you want to appreciate the widest possible range of opinions about gardening, talk to gardeners about their neighbors. Because, you know, nobody really wants to admit that their neighbor might have the right idea (about anything), and most of us have had mild-to-medium plant-related disagreements with the property holders on either side. I was at a party yesterday, and one of the guests was regaling groups of us with a story about a shrub border, a tree that needed trimming and two neighbors. The right-hand neighbor needed the tree to be trimmed—and then some shrubs were cut back as part of an overall tidying. I won’t go into details, but the upshot was that the left-hand neighbor became so outraged over the way the shrubs bordering her property were trimmed that she called the police on my friend, the party guest. (The police declined to intervene.)
Trees and—sometimes—shrubs are by definition neighborly plants. They have no regard for property lines. We are living in fear of our elderly sugar maple causing massive damage to the house next door, given enough windy days, and recently had it severely trimmed in hopes that its benign and surprising presence in a tight urban spot can continue. And then there are property lines, the ones that you think you have and the ones that they think they have. Plants can be big players there. The whole notion of invasive takes on a micro definition.
And then there are the stories like this one, about how persistent complaints from neighbors almost caused an entire front garden to be eradicated by city bulldozers. Fortunately it had a happy ending.
Those of you living in the wide-open spaces, with maybe no neighbors for acres, might be feeling kind of smug right now. Not so fast. One of the reasons I think Buffalo doesn’t need a High Line is the incredible variety of urban plantings I can see within half a mile either way from my front door. I see mini-meadows, formal shade plantings, cottage gardens bursting with color, even elegant hardscaping, depending on which block and which house it is. (The architecture is cool too.)
And if not for neighbors, what would we talk about at parties?
(By the way, one of my neighbors has called the police on me, but not over gardening.)