Opposites (Don’t) Attract

Living in harmony when your next door neighbour is anything but.

Good neighbours make gardening a pleasure. They don’t play their music outside, they don’t run loud machines during the dinner hour. They put a lid on the kids when you’ve got guests. They even keep their doggies off one’s precious property. On our street, we have the occasional glass of wine together and we gossip like crazy about everyone else. We also know when to shut up and just work outside silently. Terrible neighbours, on the other hand, can ruin your tranquility. Years ago, Next Door kept me up nights wondering when they’d sneak into my garden to pull out more clematis because they were “rotting the fence.”

I have terrific neighbours now. They’ve finished their giant renovations (as have I); and we’re all busy keeping our gardens going with totally different styles and nobody’s intimidated or jealous of what others are doing. It’s my idea of bliss.

A friend of mine lives next door to his mortal enemies: people who are “garden blind,” as he calls them. They lop branches off overhanging shrubs, build huge additions that kill trees and, worst of all, he says, make us look at the hideous things they do with their yards in lieu of “getting” what it really means to have a garden. These two make each other miserable. My friend has a garden of extraordinary beauty, while his neighbour has a stiffly landscaped, “low-maintenance” bit of yardscape. The two just don’t mix and we who live cheek by jowl in the city are likely to experience this far too often. It can be rough.

This set me to wondering just who is right? Is being garden blind something one can define beyond taste? I believe my friend has a real garden?filled with wonderful plants that fit the site and the design of the space perfectly. His neighbour?s garden, with its stiff verticals underplanted with conventional evergreens, doesn?t speak to my soul. Does it to anyone?s? I muse about this a lot as I bop around and see acres and acres of soulless gardens.

Who finds their heart singing when they see three round evergreens, one vertical thing and a deciduous tree set against a house surrounded by lawn? I don?t get it. Just as the people with those landscaping minimalist plants probably don?t get my lush riot of foliage with level after level of plants flung out like a rich tapestry. Do they think it looks unreal? (I?ve been accused of that.) Why can?t they see what I see: biodiversity, a ton of insects and birds flashing their way through and all those marvellous plants making my life a whole lot better? The scent, the sound, the sensuality. Oh boy, let me outside.

Perhaps I am smug, grateful to have discovered gardening while I could still lug big shrubs and trees around by myself. But for that lost soul who is garden blind, who doesn?t understand what it is to smell the roots of a wild ginger plant or whack a hosta in two with a shovel, is there hope? I don?t know, but I have faith.

I keep thinking that all those people who want minimalist, instant or maintenance-free gardens will one day wake up and feel some atavistic urge to dig, to move stuff around, to add and subtract plants, to make something unique on this earth. And when they do, they?ll become gardeners?and the kind of neighbours we all wish we had.