Sunday, 11 December 2011

10.12. New neighbours again

I am getting new neighbours again, I have just been told that the family next door is moving out next week. I have a somewhat special relationship with their garden, so it is with a mix of anticipation and trepidation I now wait for them to move out and someone else to move in. Let me explain…

I live in a typical terraced London street, with tiny houses with tiny rooms and tiny back gardens, and where privacy is something you can only dream of, inside and outside. For many years the next door neighbour to my right was a single man a couple of years older than me. He was not well, and the last few years he didn’t cope very well on his own and lived mostly at his mother’s house. I don’t think he was very much into gardening before he became ill, and it was surely not a priority to him the last 5-6 years. The result was that his garden became very overgrown and looked terrible. Having just a low fence between us meant that whenever I was in my garden, I could also see his garden and the state of it. And my neighbour to the left has been even worse, using their garden as a rubbish tip and letting all sorts of weeds grow head high.

Two years ago the foxes moved into the garden to my right, probably since my neighbour wasn’t living there and because the tall weeds made an excellent shelter against wind and rain. If you are not familiar with London foxes, I can tell you that the last 30 years they have become a real problem and the population has exploded. There is ample food everywhere from people throwing their take-away in the street and the foxes have only one ‘predator’ in London; the cars, which kills mainly young foxes that hasn’t learned to keep out of their way. The fox family that camped out in my neighbour’s garden dug a huge tunnel under the fence through to my garden, ruining all the plants in that corner of my garden in the process and had the audacity to take over my garden as their daytime hangout space! If you find that hard to believe, please have a look at MY POST FROM 7 JANUARY.

I was itching to get a bigger garden to work in, and here was this great space nearly the same size as mine just there, unused and unloved and now inhabited by foxes that made a huge mess and quite frankly were rather threatening at times. They are not at all frightened and you can go right up to them before they leisurely walk away. Make no mistake, that doesn’t mean they are domesticated or tame; they are wild animals and will attach to protect their young if they feel threatened. In February I bumped into the owner of the house next door, just by chance, and I asked if it would be possible for me to take over the garden and do it up, partly to get rid of the foxes and partly to make it look nicer - and for me to get a bigger space to garden in. The owner was very positive, she even promised to pay for all material I would need for the hard landscaping and we agreed on a (very small) budget. I already had almost 100 plants dotted around in my garden in pots which could really need a new home, a result of seeds, cuttings and divisions, some of them were up to 5 years old and in dire need of a space in the ground, others were only from the year before, but with a few more bought plants it would be enough to fill a whole new garden. I couldn’t believe my luck! Here I had the chance to make a new garden from scratch, and the house owner had left it entirely up to me in terms of design and choice of plants. I had a fence panel lifted out and cut it in two to make an opening and that made an easy access for me to ‘my new garden’. That was actually crucial for this project to work; I could then go outside for an hour or two whenever I felt up for it and leave my tools there without having to travel anywhere. I could not have done this if the garden had been anywhere else than next door. I did all the work sitting on a stool, as standing up is difficult for me; my stool went with me around the garden as I kept cutting down and pulling up weeds and bluebell bulbs. I am still sick of bluebells, there must have been close to a thousand of them! The photo above shows what the garden looked like the day I started out, quite a daunting sight, but I always had the end goal in mind!

I know many people could have done up a garden like this in a couple of days, but I am afraid I no longer work in a tempo like most people – it took me almost 3 months to do it, and I did hurry a bit at the end, although the house owner had not given me any deadline, neither had my neighbour both of whom I was giving updates to via email. But I had my own deadline, as I was going to have a hip replacement operation in middle of June, and I knew it would be a long time after the operation before I would be back in my gardens. You can read about the whole process if you go back to my posts from March to May this year, and here you can see the whole process in photos, from beginning to the end. (Click left and right side of the large photo to move in each direction or use the navigation panel below)

I finished the garden 28th May, sent off an email to both house owner and neighbour to tell them the good news, and the day after I got an email back from the house owner saying my neighbour had died suddenly two days before! He never even saw the garden, only on photos via email. I had made the style of the garden to suit someone living on their own, who would not attend to the garden much, a garden that would to some extend take care of itself, with large flowerbeds and just a small gravel path to walk on. Two weeks after the news about my neighbour’s death new tenants moved into the house, a family of five, with 3 young children, 1, 5 and 7 years old. The house owner had asked me to continue to take care of the garden after the new tenants moved in, but the new family were adamant they wanted to do the garden themselves. So we put back the fence panel so I no longer had access and they pulled up and threw away half of the plants I painstakingly had nursed for years. They then went on to move the logrolls to make much smaller flowerbeds on each side and a bigger area in the middle, ‘so that the children could get some grass to walk on’. Fair enough, I could understand that it wasn’t such a child friendly garden; it wasn’t designed with children in mind. Today, when writing this, the beds are a mess with the remaining plants moved around hap-hazardly; shady plants on the sunny side and many plants that need full sun have ended up on the shady side. And the area in the middle supposedly designated for a lawn is still just a muddy area without any grass seeds. And the family is moving out next week.

So, back where I began; about trepidation and anticipation…I have no idea who is going to move in next door of course, could be people who love gardening, could be someone who hates gardening and who would absolutely love to let me take over again. Or it could be people who just don’t want anyone else to interfere, who want to do their own thing, or not do anything with it. I don’t know, time will tell. I do feel a bit of responsibility for that garden, I can see all my plants when I look over the fence, all the plants I spent so much time growing from seeds and cuttings. I didn’t think I would lose control over the whole thing after just a few months although I always knew it was a risk that some time in the future someone would move in who would want to take care of the garden themselves. It’s been a bit of a lesson for me, not to stop helping people, because I think I will always do that, but perhaps not get involved to this extent in the future. I didn’t get paid for the work, and that was never my intention either, my reward was meant to be that I was going to get twice as big a garden to play with, even if half of it was behind my neighbour’s fence. And that was more than good enough for me to do all that work. I didn’t know back when I started how things would turn out, but it’s certainly not too late for ‘my new garden’, could be that I get it back in a couple of week’s time, who knows! I can always hope....I’ll keep you posted :-) Until next time, take care.


  1. You made a lovely garden and have the photos to prove it. Perhaps the new tenants will be glad for a real gardener to tend that plot for them.

    You mentioned that your camellia will not bloom for another 2 months. I have one that usually blasts in the hot sun of April here it blooms so late. Early, mid and late cultivars give us a long term of bloom.

  2. Dear Helene,
    I am sitting here this evening reading some blotanical blogs. Yours is the second blog I have read about the terrible weather. I am enjoying reading your posts. You have a lovely garden. We can only wish for some of those beautiful plants here in Texas so I appreciate that you share with us. I have my fingers crossed that you get good gardening neighbors. Looking forward to reading more of your blog.
    Points of the Rose
    North Texas Gardening

  3. Just stumbled across your blog on Blotanical! Love your posts and I'm very much looking forward to following your garden adventures in London. Sounds a wee bit chilly!! Stay warm...Cheers Julia =)

  4. Hi all, and thanks for your comments, much appreciated. And as for the weather - yes it is a wee bit chilly! But tomorrow we are promised 8 degrees and full sunshine and I am planning to wrap up warm and do my usual stroll around the garden, checking what's flowering at the moment. My sarcococcas should soon be flowering, their scent is so strong I can smell them from the other end of the garden! Stay warm, stay tuned!
    Take care :-)

  5. Helene, I just found you over Blotanical. That is quite an amazing story that you are telling us here. You transformed your neighbor's patch from a neglected "nothing" to a beautiful interesting garden. Too bad that the new tenants did not appreciate it that much. Hope you get your "second garden" back, soon.

  6. Helene,
    I just found your blog and am quite enjoying it.

    I'm a bit older than you :-), but I too have problems with standing for long periods of time and squatting make gardening a bit of a challenge sometimes.

    I garden in Seattle, WA which has a climate similar to London although I think London warms up sooner than we do in the spring.

    Take care and thanks for shareing!

  7. Dear Helene delighted to find your new (or rather not new but new to Blotanical) blog. You have an interesting project ahead of you with that garden. I am mid renovating my town garden and blogging on the Guardian have a look tomorrow on their garden blog site.

  8. HI Helene, you certainly put a lot of effort and love into the next door garden. Hoping your new neighbours are gardeners and will let you share the space again. It has been many years since we lived in London (born in Stratford) that I probably wouldn't recognize any of it. The streets where I lived have had the houses pulled down long ago, probably to be replaced by blocks of flats.

  9. Hi again, I so appreciate all your comments ;-)
    To Linda at Crafty Gardener – you grew up in Stratford?? I thought you were Canadian :-) Well, the world is certainly small through our computers, my son lives in Stratford and I live only a 3 miles away! You would not have recognised Stratford today, it has changed a lot because of the Olympics we are having this summer. But my street and my house have been here for the past nearly 130 years, so have most of the other houses around me, so where I live is more of an untouched area.
    Take care!


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