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!