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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Do 'nuisance plants' cause rows?
Clematis - even the nicest plants can get caught up in disputes
A woman in Yorkshire has been found guilty of criminal damage in a case centred on a row over a clematis.

It goes to show that even the most nicely-bred garden climbing plants can get involved in disputes.

It is not just hulking leylandii hedges which can spoil the tranquillity of British neighbourhoods.

But before we hit the offending species with horticultural asbos - or reach for the secateurs - maybe we should ask if they are innocent victims too.

Phil McCann of BBC TV's Gardeners' World blames the Victorians for importing some of the worst offenders - such as the great hate object of British horticulturalists, Japanese knotweed.

This was brought in as a decorative plant but, "once it jumps over the garden wall, it becomes a bully in the neighbourhood," he adds. The same goes for another Victorian import, giant hogweed.

Other plants quick to spread to other people's gardens are Russian vine - a "wild beast", says Phil McCann - and staghorn sumac or rhus.

This scallywag can travel underground and push up shoots 20 metres from the original plant, capable of moving floorboards or carpets, he says.

Bad feeling

Guy Barter of the Royal Horticultural Society, who deals with complaints and queries from the public, says people are living more out of doors, having invested in patios, barbecues and garden makeovers, and are perhaps more sensitive about garden issues than they used to be.

When a plant crosses a boundary and a neighbour cuts it back, this can lead to retaliation and "a bit of bad feeling", he says.

The worst offenders are the more "rampageous" ones, he goes on - especially climbers, trees or vigorous shrubs.

Field of lavender
Lavender is one of the plants that poison competitors

But the responsibility is on the plant's owner to make sure it does not do damage or block access to anyone else's property, Guy Barter points out.

Then there are weeds - on one side of the fence they might not be viewed as much a problem.

"One person's weed is another's useful ground cover," says Guy Barter - but when they spread they can break the gardener next door's heart.

Bindweed is one of the main offenders here, he adds. So is ground elder.

And roots: many gardeners "don't envisage that their plants have any roots at all" - but they have.

Better bet

Many vigorous trees, such as willows or poplars, are not suitable for gardens, he warns - in any case, trees must be kept far enough from boundaries for the roots not to do damage next door.

For shade and screening large shrubs, such as philadelphus, cotoneaster or rhododendrons are often a better bet than trees, says Guy Barter.

Bamboo can work well, too - but that can spread.

Japanese knotweed
One of the species that often go astray - Japanese knotweed
Some species have got a bad name for poisoning the soil and affecting other plants, he adds - but he thinks this is unjust.

Black walnut, for instance, is a common yard tree in America, where its roots can secrete poison into the soil.

But Guy Barter says the evidence for its causing harm in Britain is "very, very slight" and the same applies to rhododendrons.

Phil McCann names lavender as another plant which employs this technique of poisoning competitors - known as allelopathy.

A worse cause of garden disputes, he says, is not plants at all - but gadgets. In the garden makeover society many people have bought noisy leaf blowers and edge trimmers, which make RHS members "hot under the collar" - and leave their fountains on all night.

You sent us some of your pet garden hates.

My neighbour has piled a lot of soil about half a metre higher than ground level against my new fence. He also leaves his sprinkler rattling away against the fence, even when it's raining. Consequently the wood is already warping again . I don't want to get him into trouble with the water board and I'm scared of raising it with him (he seems a little odd and easily angered). I used to love being in the garden but really feel ill at ease now and I don't see how to improve things.
Liz, London

Blackberry vines are the bane of my yard. They came in from a vacant lot and took up the whole side of the yard. They have stickers that can cut or pierce a heavy denim jacket, not to mention the standard gardening gloves. I know people who rent goats just to eat the vines.

But on the other hand, the local police encourage the use of plants with sharp stickers for around ground floor windows. Most thugs aren't willing to go through them to get to the windows.
Victoria Young, SF Bay Area, USA

Any kind of power tool used on Sundays. Wouldn't it be nice to have one day per week (as protected by law in Germany) when you could plan to have friends round for lunch outside in your garden without fear of conversation being swamped by mowing, strimming, drilling or hammering? With such a large proportion of GP appointments being made because of stress, we badly need one day of peace a week.
Jane, Oxford

Here's a leylandi tip from a professional. These specimens were never meant to be grown in gardens over about seven feet. That is to say, they are hedging material and ugly enough when full grown to be an eyesore in any garden. If you trim them as a routine to just over your head height (or even less) you'll end up with an absolutely beautiful dense green hedge. Fail to trim, even when the plants are spindly six footers, and you'll end up with a row of trees with nothing from the ground up to eight foot (i.e. where you wanted the privacy - low down) and an ugly threatening mass tens of feet high with irate neighbours thrown in.
Edward James Wilkes, Southport England

Foxes are the worst - one night my flatmate left the bin bag outside the back door. In the morning I saw that it had been attacked by a fox. So I went out to pick up all the bits that were strewn across the patio. Then, in my bare feet, I stepped in something disgusting that the fox had deposited to show it had been. YUK! The council needs to cull them. As for my neighbour's ivy, when it pops through the fence I just reach for my secateurs - simple! I hope they do the same with my little green trespassers. I'm sure all of our gardens grow wanderers too.
Rachael, Battersea, London

I have the opposite problem to most. Until a couple of months ago the trees in the garden behind me afforded me a great deal of privacy but now he's cut them down. Now there are at least three houses behind me who can see into my garden and straight into my kitchen and dining rooms.

I'm trying to sell my house right now and the last viewing I had said they loved the house but felt the back was "too open with too little privacy"!!!
Alex Bailey, Corby, UK

Even quite large and scandalously expensive new houses now seem to have virtually no garden at all - in which normal, familiar plants, let alone trees, will inevitably cause problems.

While planning guidelines remain in the disgraceful state they are, property speculators will still be able to get away with this - but perhaps such very small plots should no longer be legally termed gardens? If it isn't big enough for at least one fully mature tree (Oak, ash, beech etc.) it aint a garden.
Edwood Walker, Malvern UK

My fiancÚ and I have just moved into a mid-terrace house which for 5 years was occupied by someone who did nothing in the garden. We had some friends round twice to give us a hand and within hours, what had been a nettle, ivy and bramble patch with mint sprigs has been transformed into a rockery, patio and two small beds ready for flowers. The biggest problem now is that the neighbours on both sides have lawns, so we have free grass shoots everywhere!
P Thomas, Cambridge, England

Bamboo, folks. Years ago I put a groundcover bamboo into a Japanese garden I was creating and I've been paying the price ever since - bamboo spreads like the measles. A rite of spring is having to yank never-ending root systems out of the ground. Learn from mistakes and keep digging!
William Parker, New York USA

Neither plant nor gadget: open windows and stereos turned up loud so that their owners can hear them in the garden, without thought for whether anyone else wants to.
Grill, Holcombe, Somerset

Our neighbours have some amazing huge rose bushes that reach over the fence and brighten up our garden. I just wish I could grow plants like that!
Stu, Worcester, UK

The thing that bugs me most is all this floodlighting. I love sitting in the dark looking at the stars, but there is a jerk near us who has a badly adjusted floodlight like a military laser which completely destroys your night vision. Now he's put a load of lights around a tree and leaves them on all night. This is really intrusive, wasteful, unecological and rude. I feel garden rage coming on!
Roy Smith, Burntwood, staffs

Systematic weedkiller, used carefully and surreptitiously, can help a great deal!
David Harrison, Liverpool UK

My parents planted Leylandii hedges in 1987 as a quick solution after all the fences had been wrecked in the hurricane. Little did they know . . . The hedges have finally gone, but only after years of vain struggles to keep them under control. Feel sorry for Leylandii owners. They're victims too.
Helen, Wellingborough, Northants.

The constant drone of hover-mowers of a summer's evening drives me nuts. People seem to use them like vacuum cleaners, back and forth over the same patch of grass for what seems like forever. A nice old-fashioned blade mower will do the job in half the time and look much neater.
Brian Eves, Hemel Hempstead, UK

What's worst is when massive "play houses" are built next door and affect the plants I have nurtured in my garden. They block the light and create a marsh of moss and permanently damp soil. At least plants can be pruned back!
Al Glenny, Pontefract, Yorkshire

My neighbour refuses to do anything about the ivy growing in her garden, that has infested my garden and caused structural damage to my house. She claims she likes the ivy, it is 'pretty'!
Martin, Gloucester

Two main invaders from over the fence here are morning glory and agapanthus. Morning glory will twine itself round other plants until it's almost impossible to remove without damaging the plant, and it nearly killed our lemon tree. The agapanthus comes up everywhere, even in the middle of the lawn, grows very fast, and is a real nuisance.
Judy Kojetin, San Francisco, California, USA

You think you've got problems. Ha. I am in Canada and we get skunks. They look for grubs by digging big holes in the grass and the legendary smell is worse than you can imagine so stop worrying about a few plants. They grow back, honest. If you don't like 'em, cut 'em again. Grow and cut. Cut and grow. Easy eh?
Mark, Canada

The people who live next-door but one to us use their garden like an extra room for a large part of the year. We have no problem with this at all (we're not about to become the 'garden police'), but do find it tiresome that they barbeque almost every night of the week; this is despite the fact that the husband had fairly major heart surgery last year. If it's raining they simply put a tarpaulin over the washing line and barbeque under that! Recently they've also bought one of those outdoor Mexican ovens, which they use wood in - and it fills everyone else's house with acrid smoke.
Katie, Faversham, Kent

The house next door to us is unoccupied and their garden is badly infested with all sorts of weeds, including thistle growing 7 feet high and huge big nettle bushes! And although we have tall fences, it hasn't stopped the crawling weeds from spreading over to our side. Since the house is unoccupied, who do we complain to?
Joe Heath, Bristol, UK

We have cats and dogs pooping all over our garden and pathway. The reason for dog poop is apparently people around here like to walk their dogs off the leash and do not clean up afterwards. And yet I am not complaining like Ade Morris because I like pets. For cats pooping in the garden, I'd suggest you plant curry plant in your garden - one in each corner. Cats hate the smell and will never set foot in your garden again.
Richa Dwivedi, Bristol, UK

The things that cause me most grief in my garden are cats and moaning neighbours!
mark, bristol

About 5 years ago, I almost got involved in a fight with my next-door neighbour. The house I was renting had a rampant ivy plant, which was a mess on my side, but was a saviour for my neighbour's side of the garden by camouflaging the ugly fence panels. At that time, I was in this country for merely 3 months, and was not used to the bylaws of the country. I pruned the ivy, but pruning eventually led to cutting it altogether due to my inexperience. My next door neighbour was unhappy, and relatively angry, but we talked through it. Several apologies, a cup of tea later, we were friends. We have been friends ever since, and frequently joke about the "Poison Ivy". I think more people should communicate more, rather than blame others. At the end of the day it is just a garden, and just a plant. Do not get angry over something so trivial. To think that some would kill over a hedge!
Seema, Crawley, UK

When my fiancÚ and his mates moved into their student house in Nottingham, it was ex-residential so the garden seemed fine. Come Spring, there was a sudden outbreak of lily-of-the-valley which nearly swamped everywhere but the lawn. One evening, he and a friend went out and blitzed the place by hand, well, the friend did and he collected some of the better-looking flowers and gave them to me. Sweet, and clean! There are now only a few plants coming up, and while it's one of my favourite plants, there was rather too much of it before!
Dawn Hazle, Nottingham, UK

My biggest pet hate is when I cut the grass and I discover that next-door's cat has used both my front and back lawns as its litter tray. Personally I cannot understand why cats should be 'a protected species' when in actual fact they should be classed as vermin, spreading such diseases as Toxoplasmosis and the like.
Ade Morris, Cardiff

Ivy growing throughout wooden fence from next door's to my garden - it is hard to get rid of and spreads quickly and damages the fence.
Jana Little, Thatcham, Berkshire

Judge calls for an end to dispute
24 Aug 05 |  Bradford
Leylandii owners face new rules
01 Jun 05 |  UK Politics


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