Hilarie Stelfox: Why trees should come with a warning

WHEN we moved into our house 14 years ago it’s fair to say that it had been subjected to many years of benign neglect.

WHEN we moved into our house 14 years ago it’s fair to say that it had been subjected to many years of benign neglect.

One part of the garden was entirely covered in brambles and the many trees – mostly of the hated leylandii variety – were so overgrown they formed a 30ft barrier between us and the next door neighbour.

We set to with a hack saw, the only weapon in our armoury that we had at the time. It was a bit like attacking a knight in armour with a sharpened darning needle and about as effective.

It wasn’t long before one of the neighbours appeared wielding a chain saw and offered to help.

“There’s more happened in your garden in the last weekend than in the previous 10 years,” he said, surveying the piles of swept leaves and dead branches, de-tangled brambles and up-rooted shrubs.

With his assistance we attended to the leylandii, removed a particularly stubborn pine and restored some semblance of order to the grounds.

Ever since then The Man has tried to keep on top of things with his growing collection of saws, shears, leaf-blower, shredder and rakes. We even have a giant chimenea for burning all the wood.

But sometimes I feel he is fighting a losing battle against nature. The leylandii have sprouted many side branches that now require repeated surgery, the ivy has entwined itself around the house, inserting its greedy little roots into the UPVC windows and the brambles don’t seem to understand we want them to stay on the outside of the garden wall.

We now appreciate how the previous owners of our garden had got themselves into such a mess and I take back all the unkind things I said about them.

But we struggle on because if there’s one thing we’ve learned over years of house ownership it’s that trees cause trouble.

I have yet to live in a house where there was not some neighbourly complaint over a tree.

My first new house in Netherthong had a gigantic sycamore in the back garden which had been left by the builders. It completely overshadowed the neighbour’s garden and he was forever griping about it.

In the end I had several major branches lopped off it but refused point blank to chop the entire thing down. I have a soft spot for trees and this particular one had been there a lot longer than either of us.

In my next house – a terraced property in Netherton – a previous owner had been foolish enough to insert a row of leylandii across the lane at the back. This annoyed my elderly neighbour who kept dropping dark hints that something ought to be done about them before it was too late. I sold the house and the problem after living there for nine months, only to acquire a third property with problem trees and another unhappy elderly, anxious neighbour.

Two lonesome pines stood on a patio at the back of the house, several yards from my neighbour’s back window. She claimed that on windy nights she couldn’t sleep in case the trees smashed through the glass. We thought she was being over-dramatic and pointed out that if they smashed anyone’s window it would be ours.

In our current house, as well as the leylandii we have a Scots pine and a Norway spruce, both rooted within yards of our front door and our neighbour’s drive.

They were, yet again, a foolish bit of planting by the original owners who should have researched the growing potential of such trees and done some calculations.

Our neighbour (not the one with the chainsaw) is unhappy with the pine needles and to appease him we had all the over-hanging branches removed. We know that at some point in the future we’ll probably have to chop them down and the thought makes me feel sad.

Our trees are not just living entities in themselves, they’re also home to many birds, insects and bats. Our cats quite enjoy them too.

The Citizens Advice Bureau lists ‘trees’ as one of the common reasons for neighbour disputes which doesn’t surprise me in the least.

What does surprise me is that more people don’t think very carefully indeed before planting trees because if they did they could save an awful lot of future aggravation, expense and neighbourly unpleasantness.

Perhaps trees should come with a warning along the lines of “I can grow up to 200ft tall so don’t put me next to Mrs Goggins’ conservatory.”

 
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