When we moved here in the fall of 2011, I didn’t get the memo about the unspoken rule in our British neighborhood (or is it all of the UK?) that if vegetation from your garden grows over the property line into the neighbor’s space, you are expected to go and trim it. Seems like that would have been an important bit of info for the landlords to share with the ignorant Yanks about to take over care of a multitude of unidentified and over-zealous foliage for two years. Or perhaps one of the neighbors who shares a fenceline with us could have popped round and said, “Once this stuff starts growing in the spring, it gets out of control rather quickly. You’ll need to come by and trim your hedges from my side every couple of months through the summer.”
If I’d known the rules, I’d have been happy to play the game, to keep peace in the neighborhood and make nice with the locals.
I didn’t know the rules. I didn’t know how fast or how far British plants could grow. I didn’t know the first thing about trimming shrubbery–when, how much, how often. Throw in three months of respiratory infections in the early spring where I could barely get out of bed, much less think about gardening, followed by a rock-climbing incident that left me with a broken thumb and out of commission for another month, and I freely admit that the garden got pretty wild and woolly.
But I was out there doing what I could, in the chunks of time I had available between jobs, as soon as I was physically able. Not good enough. I discovered, by means of a disgruntled phone call from the landlord, that the neighbors were talking behind my back and ringing up the landlords to complain about the state of the garden. That got my hackles up. And I really saw red when the back neighbor, whom I had never met or even laid eyes on, slipped a snarky note through the mail slot telling me that my rosebushes were endangering her health and safety every time she went to the trash bin and that she did not understand why I had not come round to trim them.
Why? You want to know why, lady? Because I don’t know you. Because I’m not from here. Because I don’t know all your British rules and customs and idiosyncrasies. Because if I walked onto a neighbor’s property in the US, opening a gate to enter the yard, and started hacking away at foliage, regardless of whose side of the fence it originated on, I’d likely be shot, but at the very least I’d be arrested for trespassing and destruction of property. I know y’all don’t have guns, but I don’t have diplomatic immunity and I’m not interested in meeting any bobbies.
But I’m all about trying to change the world’s negative stereotypes of Americans through word and deed, so when the roses and the laurel really started to take off last month, I staged a preemptive strike. I went round to the back neighbor’s house (whom I’ve still never met or laid eyes on) and slipped a very polite note through her door, offering to trim all the greenery that was encroaching from my side. She rang to say that would be lovely, she’d leave the gate open for me. So round I went on Friday morning, armed with my stepladder and pruning shears, and cleared away all of the leaves and branches and thorny rose runners that were invading her space. I was meticulous in the clean-up, removing every single clipping that had fallen into her potted plants and onto her patio. By George, there’d be no complaints of a shoddy job or accusations of my garden endangering her health and safety this year.
I didn’t expect her to pop out the back door while I was working with a pot of tea and scones. But I did truly expect that she’d stick her head out to acknowledge my efforts or at least my presence. Or, if she wasn’t at home despite the car in the drive, that she would call later in the day to say thanks. Not. A. Peep. Even a heathen Yankee like me was raised to say, “Thank you,” when someone does something nice. Sheesh. Other people’s children.
I’ve got four more weeks here. I’m tempted to spike the roses with Miracle-Gro. Good luck getting to your trash bin in August, lady.