Sarah Lyall wrote a great piece about an growing problem in English social relations As Privet Rises, Neighbors Take Sides in the New York Times. Apparently, tensions have risen to such a pitch that one disgruntled neighbor actually killed someone who refused to trim his garden hedge.
I feel in the gardening community not enough attention is devoted to gardening etiquette, good manners and good behavior. It’s just assumed that since gardeners are good souls engaging in a spiritually rewarding pastime, that it would go without saying that gardeners would be good, reasonable and caring souls. Well, it ain’t true. Gardeners can be stubborn, willful and downright pigheaded fools (I sometimes count myself among them).
The issue of using hedges as barriers in order to maintain privacy is one that affects me personally. I garden in my home in Madrona (Seattle). The entire southern side of my property is dominated by an English laurel hedge that at its top height reaches between 40-50 feet high. Some books say 30 feet is maximum, but that isn’t the case with this monstrous specimen. The hedge’s length is about 60 feet. The research librarian at the Miller Library at the University of Washington helped me do some botanical research on English laurels and two books in particular (I’ll have to dig up her e mail in which she names the titles & authors) warn against using this plant as a privacy hedge.
In The Complete Shade Gardener (Houghton Mifflin), George Schenk says:
…The planting of an English laurel hedge is an act of aggression against one’s neighbor – and against oneself as well. It is the fightingest of hedges, pushing outward and upward as soon as you turn your back. English laurel is one of the greatest goads to giving up on the yard and moving into an apartment – in a very real sense, this shrub is a real estate agent.
English laurel according to various botanical websites is mildly poisonous (leaves, stem & bark). I have a two year old son and I don’t want him to be endangered by something like this. It can grow up to 5 feet per year. It throws seeds at least 40 feet (well into my yard) forcing me to pick out 50-100 germinated seedlings each year. It sheds leaves profusely and leaves scatter far from their source (forcing me to rake them up on my own property).
Which all leads me to the fact that my neighbor who owns this monstrosity does (in his own defence) trim this hedge once every two years. But in the year when he doesn’t trim I essentially lose about 25% of my yard for gardening purposes since the hedge wipes out that much sunlight. I offered to pay for the trimming in years when he didn’t choose to. He refused. I think he’s being downright selfish, bad mannered and unneighborly.