I moved house in February of this year. In typical Victorian terrace style, the house came with a cute little courtyard where I could see myself pottering around, planting up containers of sweet peas, foxgloves and fragrant beauties to create a little country-style oasis in suburban Nottingham – I have since managed to squeeze in a blackberry bush, a grape vine, two apple trees, a pear tree, a plum tree, and countless flowers and herbs.
Along one side of the garden is a tall fence, so tall that we cannot see over it. Along the other side was a simple three foot brick wall, over which we could see straight into our new neighbour’s garden. For this reason, as I was beginning to sort out our new garden – surprisingly time-consuming for such a little space – I got to know our new neighbour. We shared stories about what had brought us to the area, she told me all about where to find the best butcher and grocer, and once I even found her sharing a glass of wine with my parents over the garden wall as they had arrived a surprising two hours earlier than expected! It seemed as though I had managed to build a real friendship with my next-door neighbour, something that I had always hoped would happen.
After a few months, as the weather started to warm, we decided that we needed to put a taller fence up – two year old children and inquisitive cats to tend to necessitate these things as, toddlers in particular, just don’t seem to stay where you put them! I discussed with my neighbour, who totally understood the need for the fence, and we put it up the next weekend.
At first not much changed. The fence is bamboo, so it is still partially see-through, and I began to plant it up with honeysuckle, clematis and climbing roses. I was feeling really happy with my little outdoor sanctuary, and was actually enjoying the fact that there was now more privacy. I remembered what I had liked about previous gardens which had no overlooking neighbours – sometimes you just want to have a quiet, uninterrupted glass of wine in the garden.
But then I began to notice a change in my relationship with my neighbour. For the first few weeks we would still shout ‘hi!’ though the fence when we saw the silhouette of one another through the bamboo, but gradually this tailed off. Now, three months on, there are no greetings through the fence, no early evening discussions about how our days have been. It would seem that with the erection of the fence, came the dissolution of our neighbourly rapport. Is this, perhaps, the case up and down the country, and the reason why we feel so disconnected from our communities? Should we go back to the three foot Victorian walls separating our gardens, where we could talk to neighbours three doors down? Or are we simply more private in our lives now?
I won’t be taking the fence down anytime soon, but perhaps I’ll invite the neighbours over for a BBQ…