Many of us love gardening for the peace: a spot of deadheading and a once-round with the watering can on a summer’s evening offers a particular therapeutic bliss. But for some, flowers means strife and discord. And in the green and pleasant suburb of Wimbledon, south-west London, a neighbourly dispute over a rambling rose has actually ended up in court.
Rosa Rahman, a 73-year-old who claims her garden is her “life’s work”, pleaded guilty to threatening a doctor, Mathiaparanam Sreetharan. She accused him of pouring weedkiller on her beloved blooms, which teetered into his patch. He accused her of pinning a death threat on his fence.
How absolutely wicked. But let’s be frank, hardly unusual. He won’t have been the first to have hacked away at a neighbour’s pride and joy after it strayed onto his own garden path. Overzealous, light-blocking conifers are such a familiar bane of British life that they’ve become plot devices in Jilly Cooper novels. Up and down the country, do we not all tut at those whose lavender bushes need a haircut, whose eucalyptus trees tower too near the wall and, of course, whose lawns cry out for a bloody good mow?
We are a nation of gardeners, blessed by considerable rainfall and, for the most part, a modest plot attached to our homes in which to potter and prune. Ever since the Victorian housing boom – planned with gardens and green squares in mind – we have used our gardens as an extension of our homes, our castles – to be defended.
What to do in this most British of predicaments? Some cul-de-sacs host informal AGMs to discuss the upkeep of the communal lawns, while other streets are fortunate to have one keenly horticultural resident who will happily take on the workload for all.
Last winter I found myself awkwardly emailing my neighbour upstairs after their frantic watering resulted in not one, but two batches of cyclamen dying from the run-off on my balcony garden. There was a flurry of bluster and profuse apology, and things have been a little less soggy since. Even so, in the summer my watering duties are halved thanks to the family on the fifth floor.
And in truth there are as many benefits as drawbacks to living next to a devoted gardener. Most of the blackberries I picked as a child came from a bush that had rooted on the other side of the fence, and an elderly neighbour in the village, keen to keep his sweet peas flowering, would regularly drop off posies during the summer months.
Green-fingered neighbours are also a godsend for saving plants when you’re away – I took a box of seedlings and houseplants downstairs before I went on holiday recently and they came back looking like they’d been nurtured for the Chelsea Flower Show. I should have left them there.
As a city-dweller without a proper garden, I’m grateful for extra greenery. Who could possibly mind an errant rose bush here or an adventurous shrub there among so much concrete? Japanese knotweed aside, beauty can be found in nearly every plant – we should remember to be grateful for them, and the space they grow in, before we reach for the weedkiller.
Alice Vincent is the author of How to Grow Stuff – Easy, no-stress gardening for beginners