Despite the oft-spoken dictum, "Good fences make good neighbors," the fact remains that truly bad neighbors may still find a way to intrude upon the serenity of your backyard oasis and spoil your backyard fun, even with the best of fences. That's why I'll take good neighbors over good fences any day!
5. Bad Neighbors and the Backyard Oasis
When mention is made of bad neighbors, I almost inevitably picture the overbearing Hyacinth Bucket in the classic British TV comedy, Keeping Up Appearances. Specifically, I think of poor Emmet, the neighbor who tries to hide from her so that she doesn't "catch him" when he's out in his yard and start singing at him. What a way to live....
Again, this quality of life factor isn't strictly limited to a discussion of landscaping considerations. But I do think that the "neighbor factor" is especially pertinent to those who enjoy working in the yard. The more time you'll be spending outside in your new yard, the more you'll be exposing your life to your neighbors.
Many of us seek a backyard oasis from our landscaping, a haven where we can commune with nature and experience a feeling of serenity; but there's nothing like bad neighbors to send serenity packing. Having compatible neighbors is the ideal, folks whose company you enjoy; short of that, an absence of bad neighbors, at least, is a realistic goal.
While you can gain some privacy from neighbors by building privacy screens, be forewarned that the worst types of neighbors would find a way to bother you even if your two yards were separated by the Great Wall of China! Fences, after all, can be circumvented, unless you wish to barricade your property and live like a hermit! So it pays to "interview" your prospective neighbors before buying a house. If you see any of them out in their yards, offer a friendly hello -- and try to get a quick read on their personalities.
I don't know about you, but I can tell quite a bit about someone from just a brief encounter. For instance, strike up a conversation with a prospective neighbor about the lawn, flowers, shrubs and trees already present on the two properties. Here are some warning signs to look for in such a conversation:
- The neighbor complains about how messy the pine trees are next door. Warning sign: could be a chronic complainer. No tree is always completely mess-free. The most you can hope for are trees that are relatively clean, such as Canadian hemlock trees.
- During the whole conversation, the neighbor is yelling at the kids, who pay their parent no mind. Warning sign: speaks for itself -- no analysis needed!
- The neighbor's dog is barking during the entire interview. Warning sign: how much of this racket will you be able to stand over the long haul, if you value peace and quiet?
- The neighbor doesn't seem to listen when you're speaking, but rather interrupts you in mid-sentence and fails to answer (or even acknowledge) direct questions. Warning sign: indicative of a poor listener. Poor listeners will often pay you a visit and "talk your ear off." They're not in tune with what others are feeling, so they're likely to keep you from doing what you came out into the yard intending to do. And since poor listener's won't reciprocate and listen to you, the diversion has no redeeming value.
The importance of this last point is not to be underestimated, especially if you seek a feeling of serenity from your landscaping and from being out in your yard. Poor listeners who are also braggarts and "big talkers" are the worst of the bunch: they'll prattle on and on forever, not only keeping you from your landscaping, but sapping your energy to boot!
Paradise Lost: Winning Back Your Backyard Oasis
What if you're already stuck with a neighbor who's one of these poor listeners / big talkers? Well, you may be forced to assert yourself, thereby dashing all hopes of singing "Kumbaya" together anytime soon, perhaps. But if you value your serenity, I suggest politely letting such a neighbor know that you come out into the yard to enjoy your garden, not to listen to monologues. Perhaps propose an alternative venue for socializing, such as a weekly card game (assuming you want to stay on good terms with this neighbor).
The earlier in the relationship you thus assert yourself, the better: one-way talkers tend only to be emboldened by continued passivity on your part. So the longer you allow their advances to go unchecked, the more difficult it will be for you to convince them that the sight of you wearing garden gloves and pushing a wheelbarrow around is not an invitation to commence a rant. And if they're the type who will bristle at your assertion of your right to serenity, putting off the "break up" will only make it harder for them when it does come (increasing the likelihood of bad blood between you).
Don't get me wrong: friendly, two-way chats with compatible neighbors are wonderful, especially if they, too, love gardening and nature. Such chats build happy communities. But bad neighbors are another story altogether. Do you really want to have to steal furtively out of your house or barricade your property just to enjoy a tranquil moment in your own backyard oasis? Do you want to be reduced to crouching behind a large bush for cover, to avoid the assault of your own Hyacinth Bucket? Remember poor Emmet....