NPME

BlogNightmareNeighbours

posted by Natalie Paddick



Winter Landscaping .. Making a Space Look Bigger …  With or Without your Neighbours Help!


Over the winter, we had the opportunity to make a client’s outside space look brighter and bigger. The property a new build home had a small dark front courtyard, as a result of the neighbour’s large misshapen overhanging fir tree. The courtyard had dark gravel, weeds and a great deal of debris which dropped from the overhanging branches and not to mention the droppings from the pigeons living in the foliage overhead! Not a pretty sight!

Now the obvious solution to this is to approach the neighbours and come up with a reasonable solution to either reduce the tree in height, thus stabilising the tree or as the tree was so misshapen take it down completely and replace it with something more suiting to the location. Or so you would think! It is a potential ‘neighbouring dispute’!

Your rights within the law in this country is if a neighbours tree, shrub or bush overhangs you perimeter creating a problem. You are entitled to remove the overhanging branches up to your boundary line only, making sure before you do this that the tree concerned does not have a preservation order on it! Again it is good neighbourly behaviour to advise your neighbour that you are going to do this. You must ask them if they require any branches and leaves that belonged to the boundary hedge back as they are your neighbour’s property. You can’t just throw them back into the garden of your neighbour as this is considered fly tipping! Our clients are Malaysian, just arrived in this country to their beautiful new home. The law in Malaysia is that if your neighbour trees, shrubs etc. overhang your property then the owner of said tree has to have them removed at their cost. A much more sensible option?

If you have tried to negotiate with your neighbour over the reduction of the “high hedge” impacting on your property, and they are being difficult about it, then another way of dealing with this issue is to approach your local council under the High Hedge act; Anti-Social behaviour act of 2003. The council will then mediate on your behalf for a fee of circa £400.00. If found that the hedge is too high and therefore anti-social they will enforce the owner of the hedge to remove/lower the height of the hedge at their expense. However this can be time consuming!


Our clients being very reasonable, honourable and decent people requested that I went around to speak to the neighbours on their behalf to explain the problem …. Here we go! So first I wrote to the neighbours explaining the situation, (they were not unaware of the problem, the developer had already written to them about the issue and I had a copy of that letter.) A week later, I rang the gate bell of the neighbours and the automated gates opened.. I walked in and went to what looked like the front door. No one came to greet me. So I went back to the gate and rang the bell again assuming that the owners would talk to me over the intercom. Nothing happened apart from some very strange incomprehensible electronic sounds out of the speaker … I waited and waited … But after about 5 minutes still nothing happened….With the exception of the electronic gates opening and closing .. So I moved on to the other neighbour who had other tree’s that were overhanging my clients garage to advise them that we were going to take the branches down. This neighbour was full of courtesy and was happy for us to take the damaged trees down. As a gesture of good will I offered to replace the trees with some new more appropriate specimens of her choice. Simple!

Suddenly, I became aware that someone had come through the electronic gates behind me. I approached the women, smiling (I had no reason not to smile!) As I got closer I could see that she was extremely agitated. I said ‘Hello’ … ‘I am working next door and your fir tree is overhanging my client’s garden creating a mess and shade …. My clients would like to remove the overhanging branches as they are undermining the roof of their garage….. ‘This women went ballistic … She pulled on to her hair saying that she was about to wash it and I had disturbed her… She said she hated the developer … And that her house was here first! …(This was not going according to my plan!) .. This woman continued to rant, her voice rising in volume’  … It was spectacular in a bizarre way … I started to wonder what I had said that had produced such a hysterical Cruella de Vil performance; it was like the moment in the film when Cruella realises her two Hench Men had lost the valuable puppies!!

I am not a wall flower, (anyone that knows me will tell you that!) But I am all for peaceful negotiation where possible. So … I tried in vain to pacify this enraged contorted puce faced women. I pointed out the facts in as nicer manner as possible. Best tactic I could think of when dealing with a screaming hysterical banshee. She threw her hands up, pulled further on her hair and screamed that she was going to see me in court! Rolls eyes … Like I have said before Interior Design & Landscaping is a dangerous career!

The problem I have found with this job and dealing with my clients neighbours over the years is that in most cases it is not about the problem in hand, in this situation, for example, the overhanging branches. It is about something far deeper… No one likes change and jealousy’s set in … And become deep seated… It is ‘road rage’ on a property level …

Subsequently, I received a three page letter from this woman’s husband to the office. Stating that my ‘invasion’, (ringing the gate bell!) Had upset his wife, his letter was full of misinformation that was completely irrelevant to the situation in hand. The overhanging branches! It was full of vitriol, personal insults and information on how important their lives are over a menial like me? I am not without caring for people’s emotions and personal feelings, but some rational approach needs to be taken?

Yes I really have to deal with this type of nonsense regularly! More often than you would think! ..My advice if you have a neighbouring dispute is; try and stick to the point! Most neighbours just want what is reasonable .. It is not a personal attack on the way you choose to live your life .. Try and negotiate for a happy all round solution to the problem … Try and take your neighbours feelings into account … Don’t turn it into a war .. And I should point out that it does not matter how long your house has inhabited its location if the local planners have approved planning then there is nothing you could do about it! Move on!! Please note I understand these things can be difficult … But be reasonable ….

The upshot of all this … Is that my courteous Malaysian clients are still dealing with these neighbours writing polite letters in order to negotiate with these people … But these disputes can go on for ever! …

So in the meantime … Our brief was to make the dark courtyard brighter. We replaced the dark gravel with bright creamy white Travertine paving slabs. Put in a huge, nearly 4ft high pot with a bespoke stainless steel water feature in the corner of the courtyard. Installed uplighters and down lighters in stainless steel, which creates views, atmosphere, movement and sound and in the evening focal point oasis of light. Installed a bespoke wooden planter filling it with sculptural plants, which as they grow will give shape and form. This completely opened up the area, made it feel much larger and to some degrees has actually defused the darkness caused by the overhanging trees. 


Footnote! Before we stopped working on this project, albeit we are going back later in the year to do the front garden and a conservatory. The tree neighbour’s husband came by to look at the landscaping … Interesting that it is fine for him to come over unannounced and walk onto the property with his friend to look at his overhanging tree! Double standards? Any way he told our workmen that because our neighbours had made the fateful mistake of landscaping their front garden; would mean that no tree surgery was ever possible! I roll my eyes! This is of course just rubbish and another excuse not to do anything about the tree! The point is that the branches, if not the tree will need to come down at some stage … You wonder what the point of the battle is? Like I said it is all about control, jealousy and unreasonable behaviour … I will keep you briefed on what happens next! …. But the courtyard looks fabulous … Result!  



BlogTheRockery

posted by Natalie Paddick

The Making of the Rockery .....
 
Sipping wine in our garden resting between two gruelling but exciting jobs, in a beautiful location in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire ... The immortal words were uttered........ “WE NEED A VIEW!” ... A light bulb moment!!!????
 
Our house which was the Folly in the style of a Greek Temple; had once been the 100th room of the McAlpine Estate. The original owner of the main house had counted all the rooms and found that there were only 99, disliking uneven numbers. He commissioned the 100th room to his estate with the construction of a Folly. We rebuilt and refurbished the Folly into a bijou but stylish home; but that is for another blog! ... The Folly is in the centre of a plot of land surrounded by enormous beech tree’s and manicured laurel hedges...... There was I thinking we were going to have a break from work... But no a plan was hatched ...  Immediately and detailed sketches and drawings were worked on... Conversations with local planners took place to check what building regulations are requirements were needed.... 


The first of a number of issues relating to the build was that we could not break through the underground chalk membrane as this would affect the Thames Water regulations. This is a problem if you are intending to dig deep! ....There was no way of knowing where the chalk started and the clay stopped, the only way this could be tested was to start digging! A risk as the project was very grand, the  dimensions of what at the time was referred to as the ‘hole’. Were 35ft deep, by 50ft wide, by 75ft long. We had already ordered and paid for 200 tons of rock that were due to be delivered from a quarry in Yorkshire. We decided to dig! Hell!! .... You don’t do this unless you are mad or committed, fortunately we are both and it was a landscape designers dream!  

Having checked with all local authorities to see if there are any underground utilities running under the property, The Southern Electricity Board (SEB), sent a team of people with all sorts of gadgets to make sure we were okay to dig. The paperwork came back with the green light ...... Day one the digger started, clearing the area getting it ready for the crane to come in..... The quantity surveyors calculations, stated that we would need three eight wheeled lorries in constant daily rotation for approximately three weeks..... The crane was capable of lifting one ton of soil per scoop. Boy it was going to be exciting!..... The digger started, I was in the Folly working when the was an explosion like I have never heard, and all electrics went off! Opening the front door .... All eyes were on the hole that the digger had just dug, there was much scratching of heads and bemused looks ... It would appear that we had hit a 4 inch high voltage mains electrical cable and put a nick in it!!
 
Within fifteen minutes you could hear sirens blaring, cars hooting and general mayhem off in the distance? ..... Then three siren blaring cars skidded to a halt outside our gate, a number of panicked looking men came flustering into the garden. The Southern Electricity Board had not identified a major electricity cable running across the garden. The digger had hit the cable and blown all the electricity at the local sub station; which had knocked out most of the electricity in Henley, not least the traffic lights and all the banks electronic communications!! ....  ‘Opps’!! The site was shut down, SEB workers arrived and there was much panicking!! Emergency cables were set up and order was eventually restored electricity wise to the local area!! 

As you can imagine this sort of high lighted the project to the press and the locals. Not least delaying the project whilst we fought with the SEB as to who was to blame and who was to pay for the reinstatement of a new electricity cable. Eventually the SEB  agreed that they had not highlighted the cable to us and offered to go halves on it’s relocation!! ... We declined to pay for their mistake and they then spent a week relaying a cable at their cost! ... And so we started again!

As the ‘hole’ got bigger it became impossible for the digger to get any deeper so, we used the crane to drop the digger into the ‘hole’. Once we got to the desired depth and width, we shuttered the base with timber sheets in readiness for the pouring of concrete for the pool base. Because of the complexities of the design the company Ready Mixed Concrete had to mix a special concoction of concrete with a water proofing additive, the same mix that was used in the construction of the underwater harbour in Tokyo. When they came to pour the concrete they bought a camera crew, as they were going to use the project in their new sales promotion documents! 

We ploughed on, installing steal re-enforcement around the entire sunken construction.... But we had another problem, we had become a sight seeing location by interested locals...The Folly was on a private single track road, so viewing traffic along with our constant use of the road taking away spoil, was impacting on our neighbours .... It is always important to keep the neighbours happy where you can!! ... A local reporter turned up at the property to interview us.... It turned out that the rumour was that Michael Jackson had purchased The Folly and was digging an underground tunnel to the nearby Friar Park Estate, which was up the road to us and was the home of George Harrison .... Friar Park is the most beautiful landscaped estate, which has secret tunnels running under it from place to place... But we had no intention of digging into George Harrisons house... As you might imagine!!!

So we were forced to erect shields to protect our new found fame! But this interest came at another cost ... One day the local authority's turned up unannounced; we had been informed on and if it was not to be Michael Jackson’s secret hide away, they assumed we were mining for minerals!! Give me strength!! ... I mean really can’t anyone do a bit of landscaping construction in their garden? After much discussion and grumpiness on their part, they agreed we could continue, but they were going to keep an eye on us!! At this moment and the memory of such negativity from others my quote would be Carp Diem .... And ignore the bank balance!!
 
There was one very frightening moment, (outside of the bank balance!) At 3 am in the morning; I stood at the top of the ‘hole’ and my partner stood at the bottom. It was pouring heavy rain and we needed the walls of the ‘hole’ to hold before the last pouring of the concrete. As the walls were made up of clay, the weight of the rain could at anytime undermine the sides of the construction. Now that would be expensive!! Fortunately we had put extra support on the road side of the construction in order to prevent us taking out the road in case we had this exact situation! The next morning one side had collapsed, in the process it had demolished all the steal reinforcement on that side of the ‘hole’ making it look like bent safety pins! ... More reconstructive work was needed ...
 
The Butyl liner arrived, which was made to a special size and was so heavy the crane had be used to get it off the lorry and in place.... All the rocks had been sized an numbered in order of where they were to be placed, the smallest rock was half a ton and the largest 7.5 tonnes; because of their weight there was no second chance in placing them, it was a very precise business!! ... Some of the stones had to be drilled so they could be held in place with stainless steal pins ....   

I can still hear the noise of the cranes loud alarm system screeching, warning lights flashing, when we tried to place the largest rock on the podium stone. The wonderful crane driver, rocked the boom so that the rock swung backward and forward; I thought the crane was going to fall into the rockery. But this crane driver was highly skilled, he placed the rock with perfect precision..... In a conversation with him afterward he said that it was an unnerving moment in his life, but he was used to pressure as he currently held the title of the United Kingdoms heavy weight bench pressing title!! ....
 
The rockery had three 100mm (4”) outlets, which pumped water loudly all day. It had a cut of switch at night, you could hear it firing up in the mornings.... It was an amazing site .... We bought in another digger to excavate a valley to the rockery and heavily landscaped the whole area ..... On one occasion we were woken in the middle of the night with helicopters and flood lights scanning at low level over the rockery... It was in 1999, after the appalling attack on George Harrison, by an armed intruder, who had stabbed him. The police were searching the area for any accomplices and they thought that maybe they were hiding in the rockery. We would also have the odd balloon flight going over the top of the house to take photographs, they would wave and call to us in the garden!   

It was beautiful in every way, it played the centre of stage at many a bohemian party and private events. We swam in the pool and climbed the rocks. I loved it and was passionate about it. We have done many other landscaping projects, but the rockery was for us! We sold the house to a pop star and moved on to our next project. But we had created a ‘Folly with a View’; that will remain there long after we are gone and always be in my heart forever! 


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