Retaining Good Neighbourly Relations

When Paul first bought this house, the garden was a bit overgrown, overcrowded and contained a few plants I was allergic to. So the first thing we did was thin out and simplify so it would be easier to maintain. When I moved in, six years ago, I began to make more considered plans.

The neighbours on either side had well-tended gardens, though there was a bit of a problem with ivy invading. Unfortunately, in the years since, one neighbour changed a lot of their front garden into car parking and stopped looking after their garden or even mowing the lawn, and the other sold to a couple who have let what was once a lovely garden go wild and weedy. Which is a pity. It was a nice street, but a lot of the houses in it have changed hands, and these days it looks shabby.

There’s one garden bed here that I’ve never planted out – the one along the driveway. My plan was to grow roses and lavender all along it:

(The cherub was kindly left by the previous owners, and I’ve kept it out of a sense of irony.)

However, there’s a retaining wall along the fence. The previous owner’s boarder built it years ago. He left a big gap where the remnant wall of an demolished shed stood a foot or so this side of the fence. We couldn’t remove the shed wall. The mulch and topsoil of our garden was already washing around it into theirs, but to remove it completely would make the erosion worse. I asked the owner if she could fill the gap in the retaining wall. She said she couldn’t afford it. There wasn’t much point me planting anything if it was likely to die when the soil washed away, so I waited.

The new neighbours suggested it was entirely our problem.

Even if I’d agreed, the retaining wall couldn’t be fixed without replacing the fence, which was also falling down, as the posts were part of the retaining wall. The new neighbours kept delaying the fence replacement, saying they couldn’t afford it, first because they’d only just moved in, then because they wanted to do other work on their house first.

So I waited. For over five years now. Finally, earlier this year, the fence was replaced. I pointed out again to the neighbour that we had to fix the retaining wall at the same time, and suggested they see if the fence company could do it. We’d pay half each.

Now, I’ve replaced fences in co-operation with neighbours twice before. The fencers ask you to tidy up the garden along the fence – enough to allow access, necessarily to remove everything. They’re supposed to put the boards on facing the same way along the street (so the fence on one side of each block shows boards and the other shows uprights and crossbeams). This meant the fence should have been built with the boards on the neighbour’s side, and that meant they’d have to do a lot of cleaning up since they’d let it get all overgrown.

The neighbours said they’d get in a skip, and we could throw the vegetation we cleared in with theirs, so we didn’t have to book one for ourselves. Despite back problems, and with very little free time because we were about to go overseas, Paul and I got out there and worked hard to tidy up, including digging out a whole lot of creepers we didn’t want anyway. There were just a couple of plants left when we were done, all easily avoided by the fencers.

My neighbours barely lifted a finger to clear their overgrown garden – mainly removed some of the creeper. They never got a skip, which we only learned the day the fence was built, which was the day before we went overseas so we wound up with a pile of vegetation that had rotted down and dropped seeds onto our drive by the time we got home. The fencers, who turned out to be friends of our neighbours, put the boards our side (which does look better) but they still managed to trample some of the few plants we’d left.

This was annoying, but you just roll your eyes and move on. What angers me is the shoddy job the fencers did of ‘fixing’ the retaining wall. It turned out to be in much worse condition than we knew, since we couldn’t see it from our side. The fencers only replaced wood where they had to. Wherever they could, they reused the half rotted out pieces of the original wall, mostly at the base where they couldn’t be seen, but some at the top like this green piece here:

I spotted the problem yesterday, only because rain had washed soil away, leaving gaps between the wall and garden bed that revealed the rotten boards at the base.

For part of the wall they actually moved the fence line so the retaining wall is now on our side. It’s about where the feral tree is that spreads by putting up shoots from runners. Now it has a gap to grow into our garden through.

In a fit of resignation, I bought these and spread them over the bed:

If they don’t wash away in the next rain storm, maybe I’ll have a bit of colour to look at by summer. In the meantime, I’m considering my options. I could:

a) take it up with our solicitor (retaining walls are covered by The Fencing Act according to my local council)
b) pay to have a new wall built even though they’re meant to pay half
c) pay to have someone do what the guy at Bunnings suggested: line the inside of the retaining wall with shade cloth and fill in with rubble. Which would be only a temporary solution.
d) pay to have someone remove the retaining wall and soil so the bed slopes steeply down to the neighbour’s ground level, and grow plants that bind and retain soil.
e) see if soil erosion damage is covered by house insurance