I sit on both sides of the fence

The council by laws officer knocked at our door again yesterday morning to complain that the roses on our fence line are getting out of hand. A sweet young woman, she asked me out to the footpath to show me how much the branches overhang the street.

She was right. Almost over night they had spread their tentacles and I could see signs of where some presumably irritated passer by had broken off a branch. The broken branch was white, like a wound bled of blood.
‘Can you let me know when it is fixed,’ the bylaws woman said.
‘I’ll do it now,’ I told her.

It was a Saturday morning and it was easy to get out the secateurs and hack away, satisfying even. In the back of my mind I imagined my complainant standing somewhere nearby and observing his/her success. He/she had forced me to take notice. The thorns now pricked my fingers.

I tell myself I’d prefer such people approach me directly. But it’s probably better to hear the news from a council person. The council folk are pleasant in their dealings, at least so far they have been.

I get the feeling they’re on my side. I get the feeling they know how hard it is to keep the roses in check, especially at certain times of the year when their branches are more likely to reach for the sky. The more you prune, the more desperately those branches reach out.

Roses inside the fence.

It’s still warm here, the tail end of summer, moving into a fruitful autumn. We’ve also had a lot of rain and so the garden thrives, especially the roses.

I sit on both sides of the fence as regards the rights and wrongs of this: I can imagine myself as the irritated passer by, annoyed that her walk along the footpath has been invaded by a thorny rose branch, and at the same time, I am the person from whose house the offending rose branch points its thorns. It happens so fast I scarcely notice it. I should of course be more vigilant.

I have found the best way to deal with complaints – assuming I agree with them – is to go along with them, to apologise, and to try to rectify the fault as graciously as possible. Underneath though, there is another me who would like to rant and rave at the extraordinary nature of a person who would go about making it their business to ring the council to protest about other people’s gardens. They must be seriously offended or vexatious to go to so much trouble.

As I get older I tend towards less graciousness. I complain more myself and I let it be known more and more often when I am unhappy about something. Such as when people telephone our house uninvited in order to beg for money for some charity, or to ask a series of questions for some research they are conducting.

I resent the effort required to answer the telephone, and the fleeting expectation of someone pleasant at the other end, someone with whom I might enjoy a chat, only to find a stranger who asks before I can speak, ‘How are you today?’
‘I’m not interested,’ I say without listening further and hang up.

And then there are those folks who occasionally leave a comment about my blog. ‘We love your blog, especially such and such a post. We’d like to promote it.’ And it is clear from the way they write, they have not even read my blog, and this assumes they are a person and not some computer generated piece of spam.

When I go to their blog to check out who should write such sweet nothings, I find they exist only as a blank profile, if at all.

After I had finished cutting back the roses I tried to ring the bylaws officer to report my good work, but the after-hours receptionist at the council told me I could not leave a message on the weekend. So I sent the bylaws officer an email:

Re: Rose pruning
Dear Eileen

I’ve pruned back the rose branches on our front fence, hopefully to the satisfaction of the person/persons who complain. The roses have been on the fence for the past twenty years but only in the past six months have we had complaints. Yours is the second.

We try to keep the roses in check but at certain times of the year they go berserk, as you can imagine. In any case, I’ve trimmed them back as far as I can. Hopefully, they’ll stay settled until the gardeners return in a couple of weeks and can give them another prune. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eye out for any stray vigorous and unruly branches.

best wishes

Let’s hope that keeps my complainants satisfied.

Roses outside the fence.

66 thoughts on “I sit on both sides of the fence”

  1. Lovely unruly rose bushes Elizabeth. We live in such a petty world it would seem – I too question the head-space of someone who would go to the bother of complaining to Council about a minor footpath obstruction. Have these people never left the comfort of their tidy concreted lives and taken a walk in the wild? Our society seems to be hell bent on abstaining from responsibility for ones own actions – the blame game is rife!
    I am one of those naughty passers by (secretly armed with secateurs/scissors) who would have pinched your flowers hanging over the fence…as 'fair game' Can relate to the less gracious aspect making its presence felt – and am also pleased with the corresponding lack of guilt around that…Praise the Lord!! 🙂

  2. And all I could think of, as I read this, was "How lovely to have roses to admire and their scent to fill my lungs with as I walk along the sidewalk outside your home!
    Cantankerous old busybody!

  3. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. At least for some people. Getting swatted by thorns as one travels the sidewalk may not constitute a beautiful experience, however.

    At least you and the council person got along well enough. And your roses look beautiful!

  4. I don't know what to say about this person who, like you said, has the kind of life (and energy) to phone and complain about such a thing. It made me almost whimper. The straightforward way in which you chose to write about this, though, made me shake my head, giggle a little and feel relieved that you didn't take a clipper to the person's head.

  5. I reckon the person who complained has nothing else better to do but complain and needs to get a life instead of being serial complainer which i reckon is the case here :-).

  6. Such a sad person to have nothing better to do than 'lodge a complaint with the authorities'. I hope he/she feels better now, but somehow doubt it.
    The roses look lovely and at least from your vantage point sitting on the fence you can still enjoy their beauty.

  7. I always thought that branches overflowing into my pathway were meant for sharing whatever was blooming on them. (LOL)
    Goes both ways!
    We have had a rather vexious neighbour in the past but fortunately/unfortunately we know exactly who it is.
    After many, many petty complaints that were appeased I finally decided not to go along with the last whinge and held my ground.
    My theory was that as long as they were focused on the current drama they would not take as much notice of any other perceived infringements. It worked and they have not complained about anything since then. I am sure we drove the council to drink tho, as they tried ever so nicely to get us to comply, and it was only out of sympathy for the council having to deal with the person that made me give in.
    (I'm not really that obstinate but I do have limits)
    Karen C

  8. In a previous incarnation I was the Clerk to the Parish Council (living in a village) I was stunned by the sort of compliants that the Coucil received and quite often wished I could pretend not to have received them – then there would be the complannts about my response to their complaints!
    Not sure how far your roses were hanging over before but the footbath is quite wide (compared to those in a rural village here) Your complainent must have been hugging the fence as they strode past your patch.

  9. I have a feeling your complainant regards a rose as a thorn in her/his side and wouldn't recognize a poem even if it "pricked" her/him–to increase this person's poetic receptivity, you should have started off your email with Gertrude's "A rose is a rose is a rose" and finished it off with "The more you hack at it, the more it grows!"

  10. Awe, I love unruly roses – and they'd have been pruned in a few weeks anyhow when the autumn settled in – why complain and spoil the last blooms?

    Can people only walk in straight lines these days?

  11. I'm all for people picking our roses, Wadjela Yorga. When they're flowering there's more than anyone person can manage anyhow.

    The picture of the street below is post pruning, so it looks reasonable but like you I wonder who'd worry so much about getting along the street in the space of a few overhanging branches.

    Thanks, Wadjella.

  12. In the springtime, Molly, the scent of the roses is magnificent and the sight of them come November is stunning.

    It is sad that some folks prefer the sterility of a cleared footpath to the beauty of nature, however unruly.

    Thanks, Molly.

  13. I know getting swatted with thorns would not be a pleasant experience, Rob-Bear. A bear would know though how to avoid the thorns, just step to one side. On the other hand, it might be harder to do this in the dark or in a hurry.

    Thanks, Rob-Bear.

  14. The council person seemed a little wary after she knocked at my door, Elizabeth. Perhaps she expected opposition, but we were both gracious towards one another and it might have helped. In any case, the roses are subdued for the time being and hopefully the person/persons who have complained will take a while longer to complain again.

    I'm not the type go at anyone with hedge clippers but there's always a first.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

  15. It might have been a serial complainer, Windsmoke, or a dedicated parent fearful for their children's health. I simply don't know, and anything's possible. I'll try to be neighbourly and complain on my blog, but otherwise behave well. I'll take it on the chin, as the saying goes.

    Thanks, Windsmoke.

  16. The beauty of the rises re the great comfort, Elephant's child, and probably the reason why anyone bothers to grow them in the first place. After all they do have their thorns which present a problem for us all.

    Thanks Elephant's Child.

  17. You're so right, Life Line. If we were in the country no one would complain. The country is filled with wild and unruly plants and is all the better for it.

    Thanks, Life Line.

  18. Remember that the roses have only grown so well because they love the situation they are in and they are saying thank you for planting us here. I do know how you feel; it is such a shame to cut back such beauty but I suppose one must think of children who are probably walking along at rose height and may have eyes in direct line.
    We get a lot of what we call 'cold calls' – usually just as I am putting a meal on the table and it is so annoying to answer the phone only to find it is someone selling something or other.
    I know what you mean also about banal comments by people you have never heard of on your blog. I value my blog friends greatly and feel I really know them all well, but I don't like it when someone just makes a comment which makes it obvious they have not read what I have written.
    Have a nice weekend.

  19. I can be obstinate too, Karen, especially when I think someone is behaving unreasonably as my post about the young man in the bottle shop who refused to sell me alcohol a few posts back attest.

    In this case of the dangerous rose branches, they might have a point, within reason though. And if tey complain too often I will stand my ground, too. There is a line to draw in these things over which we will not fall and your story sounds like one of them.

    Thanks, Karen.

  20. The rose tendrils can reach halfway across the path, Jane. The photo at the bottom of this post shows a wide clearance post pruning. And I can imagine people complaining about things that are much less disturbing than overhanging branches.

    What a job you must have had for the complainants to complain about you. Certainly there ere some people who seem to need to have a gripe however unreasonable and others who maybe ought to gripe more.

    Thanks, Jane.

  21. Ever the poet, Vassilis, you can turn any situation into a verse.

    A rose is indeed a rose, is a rose, is a rose, and a cigar can sometimes be just a cigar.

    As for the rest of your wonderful words, I can only agree, 'the more we hack it the more it grows'.

    Thanks, Vassilis.

  22. It seems people must walk in straight lines, Rachel, and hug the fence, otherwise who knows? They might get their feet muddied on the nature strip or be splashed by water from a passing car or stand in dog shit.

    It seems there are those who believe we need more risk management to do away with the unexpected. Life can be tough.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  23. This is why I don’t have a garden, Lis, well, one of the many reasons. I hate confrontation. I hate it when our downstairs neighbour knocks on our door to tell us our overflow pipe is constantly dripping. Even though it’s a kindness on their part to inform us, I suppose, it embarrasses me and I really hate to be embarrassed. I also hate to be bothered. Every day our phone rings and there’s some recorded message telling us we need to rush to claim back money if we were mis-sold payment protection insurance. We were sold payment protection insurance. I claimed on it. It was wonderful. I have no complaints whatsoever. But every blinkin’ day—often two or even three times a day—the phone will ring and it drives me mad. Because I have to get up off my seat when Carrie’s sleeping—which is one of their favourite times to call—just to put the phone back down after three or four seconds. But even when it’s a real person it annoys me. I hate unsolicited callers. We get them at the door too, selling religion or looking for me to start making payments to another charity or to change my phone/electricity/cable/Internet service provider. I’m always civil but I wish they’d all leave me alone.

    I actually don’t mind researchers unless they call at an awkward time as happened a few days ago. They said they’d call back the next day during the day but as I decided to have a nap with Carrie that afternoon I took the phone off the hook and I’ve never heard from them since which I can live with. A nice lady called yesterday looking for people to complete her survey but I didn’t meet her criteria which was a shame because I like talking to nice ladies.

    I’m not a complainer though and I never have been. If I buy something and it breaks then it breaks. I either do without or go and get a fresh one. It’s all to do with confrontation and embarrassment. It doesn’t matter that I’m in the right, it’s what I’d have to go through to get what’s my right; it’s rarely worth it. The idea of calling the Council to complain about someone’s garden is something that would never occur to me.

  24. Walking along footpaths can be surprisingly hazardous for blind people. Whether they have a cane or a dog, neither detects overhead hazards. But if it is a quiet street and not a direct path to a vision impaired educational centre, then within reason, please, just walk around it a bit.

  25. I totally empathise with you on this one. How wonderful that you managed to be so gracious on the outside. Ny insides would have burned up entirely with fury and the pettiness of some.

    Well done you!

  26. Even pruned back, your fence still looks well covered and pretty. Perhaps the complainant has a small child who would not know to avoid overhanging branches? Or is someone elderly who rides one of those "gophers" and needs a wide path?

    It's a shame, but these things happen and at least you were willing enough to go out and prune immediately.

  27. Hi Elisabeth,

    i like reading this post about the roses and the roses. More layers right? I cannot understand that people complain about such matters. Recently a neighbor came to me asking why we don't take away the old fence of our front garden. She said, laughing, i always put it down myself. Excuse me? Maybe i like old fences. She was right in this case, but now i feel the urge to wait a bit longer before taking away the fence.
    So i do understand what you must feel.
    Reading this post puts a smile upon my face, because i also think it;s funny how some people can get angry about such futilities.

    Sweet greetz! Monica

  28. What a pity some people are so separated, so unable to see the roses as a way of joining. They must be frightened to be so unhappy, frightened of the reach the roses have into their lives, that they connect the outside of the fence with the inside.

    Thanks for your visit Elizabeth, and kind words, and I'll do my best to keep up with you and your stories.

  29. Every time we humans place ourselves in a situation where we rub up against other humans, there will be problems. This is what I have observed. And yet- how can we avoid it? We can't. And so we must do what you did, which is to try and be thoughtful of others needs and desires and yet, maintain our own boundaries. Hard to do when those boundaries are constantly growing, reaching, spilling over with life!

  30. I could never live in a neighborhood where people complained about my garden or the color of my house or kids toys in the yard or any one of a number of things neighborhoods try to control. I've never lived in a neighborhood that had deed restrictions or neighborhood associations and count myself lucky. One time I did have a complaint. I had a large part of my yard given over to a wildflower garden and they had spread out to the easement and ditch which even with a hard rain, never overflowed even though water loving plants grew in it. In fact they sort of trapped the trash which I cleaned out so it didn't go in the sewer. anyway, one day someone from the city came and issued me a citation because they had received a complaint (and this was years before our neighborhood was discovered and gentrified). So I wrote up a defense about natural habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies, and the benefits of native perennials, told them of all the compliments I got from people passing by. When they came round the second time we agreed that I would keep the ditch clear but that the rest could stay. The officer that cited me just couldn't understand why I liked it so unruly. I pointed to my neighbor's pristine yard of grass, not a flower or bush to be seen, told her I found that sterile yard offensive and could I make a complaint? I mean, really, complaining about flowers?

  31. The rationale for laws and codes against unruly gardens and the like, at least here in the US, is to keep property values from slipping. Sounds like your neighbor is very status conscious, and wants you to be, too. You're forced to keep up with the Joneses, whether you, or the Joneses, want to or not.

    Phone solicitors, junk mail, spam, third-party text messaging. The advertisers, both profit and non, just won't give up.

  32. I know all about roses going out of control. One of my bushes alongside the house has pushed its branches up all the way to the gutter since I last pruned it.
    I think depending on the individuals involved it is sometimes better to get the council to become the middleman since then there isn't a resentment which builds between you and that neighbor which just results in arguments. I had such a relationship with my old neighbours which resulted in us moving to get away from the negativity (and because we needed a bigger house for our family too).
    I know what you mean about those spam comments too. I have more comments in my spam folder than I have real comments 🙁 and they all say such nice things, but in such a vague, general way that you get a creepy feeling when you read them.

  33. Really! There are more important things to fight about than roses straying across a footpath. The person in question must fear the anachy of an overgrown wilderness in suburbia to have to go to such lengths as to get a council officer to visit you to ask you to trim them back.

  34. I have not long ago visited your blog post about weeds, Pat, and it seems apt that we're both talking about unwanted plants but from different perspectives.

    I'm inclined to agree with you and others about the sadness of not valuing the beauty of the flowers first and foremost, though equally I would not want to be responsible for anyone hurting themselves.

    Thanks, Pat.

  35. Embarrassment is not so much an issue for me, Jim, as annoyance and a vague sense of unfairness. I see myself as a reasonably responsible citizen and I do not enjoy being accused of bad behaviour, whether through my unruly plants or in other ways.

    I also feel quite mixed in how I deal with unwanted callers. I recognise some of the folks are just people, often young, and or desperate, trying to make a living and it's the companies they represent I should complain to.

    I can all too easily be drawn in by kindly interviewers for research and surveys and the danger there is, if you give an inch, they take a mile. The same goes for charities.

    Everything gets linked together. If the powers that be in the great Internet sky see you've given in here or there, they'll hound you everywhere else for more.

    Hence my policy to hang up or to say at the door, 'I'm not interested'. I don't say it rudely, just firmly.

    Thanks, Jim.

  36. How petty.Ai least they could have come to visit you and ask kindly. I wish I could get roses to grow over a fence in an unruly manner. I wish my neighbours annoyed me with unruly roses rather than unruly dogs and cats.

  37. You're right, Andrew, walking along the street can be particularly hazardous for blind people and for anyone with a disability, and to that extent I sympathise with my complainants, if indeed that is their genuine concern.

    Thanks, Andrew.

  38. It's hard isn't it, Aguja, to know whether my complainants are worthy of a gracious response because their concerns are genuine, as I just said to Andrew or annoyance if they're just vexatious and like to have a good stoush from a distance. I don't suppose I'll ever know.

    Thanks, Aguja.

  39. As I said, River, I'm in two minds here, both annoyed and also understanding, especially when it comes to small children, the elderly and the disabled. Hence my efforts in this instance to comply.

    Thanks, River.

  40. We can be sensitive to such criticisms, Monica – me the rose branches, you your old fence – and at the same time we can laugh at how upset these people can be over such seemingly small things.

    Small to some, huge to others. It makes for something to write about when all is said and done, or for yoo perhaps to pant about.

    Thanks, Monica.

  41. I'd say there are mixed responses to this post, Wanderer, two distinct sides that reflect the divide.

    There are those who believe I should prune those roses vigorously to protect the innocents and others who clearly believe the folks who complain about such potential dangers are over the top.

    I'm sitting on the fence here, straddling both opinions, smelling roses and pricked by thorns. It's good to see you here, Wanderer, and thanks.

  42. As you say, Ms Moon, those fence boundaries are hard to deal with when they 'are constantly growing, reaching, spilling over with life!' But we keep on trying.

    Thanks, Ms Moon.

  43. It's funny isn't it, Ellen, that wean complain about unruliness in gardens but not about sterility? To me it's obvious which is worse, but still we get punished for our mess, and ignored when we sanitise or kill off that which is beautiful.

    Yours is an amazing story, Ellen, and good on you for standing up to your complainants.


  44. I hadn't thought of property values, Kirk. You may be right here, but somehow I think our neighbourhood is not so salubrious as to warrant such concern. Though you never know.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  45. The council worker as middleman is a useful thought, Kirstie. There's nothing worse than animosity between neighbours. So if the council representatives can sop up some of the steam in a dispute it's probably helpful.

    As for spam, we learn to live with it, don't we? we don't have much choice. If only we had the equivalent of a council member to whom we might complain in this regard.

    Spam and weeds and unruly rose branches, all the unwanted stuff that might fit into the same category, all minimised by council edict.

    Thanks, Kirstie.

  46. It's fascinating, Christine, as I observed earlier, there seem to be two categories of response here: those who think my complainants are vexatious and troublesome, maybe a tad over the top, and those who think the complaints are reasonable and demand a quick response.

    You're clearly in the first camp. It does seem to be more a suburban hazard than it would be for those who live in the bush. As far as I know you've experienced both life styles so you can perhaps have a more balanced response than us city types, but I'm still sitting on the fence.

    Thanks, Christine.

  47. It's what a lot of cheeky hipsters would call a 'First World Problem' – roses so happy and luxuriant that they want to expand onto the footpath. It's not difficult to step around them, is it?

    ….then again, I'm a rose sniffer from way back. Milly sniffs the base of the fence and I appreciate the flowers higher up.

  48. The only thing that surprised me in all this was that you didn't have the Health and Safety people on your back as well. I do agree that it is almost impossible to fathom why people don't just alert you to the problem face to face. Such is the way the world is going these days, I suppose.

  49. A first world problem in deed, Kath. And one we in the first world need o take seriously. I'm grateful though for the sniffers at two levels, you and your Millie, for making it all worth while along the fence line.

    Thanks, Kath.

  50. I suppose roses are less obtrusive than dogs and cats, Dianne, though their thorns are an issue. Even for me they tear at my clothes whenever I try to get into my car.

    So again I have some sympathy for my complainants and given that I also have cats and a dog I can empathise there on both sides, too.

    Thanks, Diane.

  51. Are those wild roses a metaphor for a trait in your personality you've kept hidden from us up to now? 🙂

    Honestly, I don't think I could find the courage to complain about someone who contributes to my neighbourhood decor. No way. As for the spammers, yes, I get them, too. I delete them without second thoughts these days.

    Greetings from London.

  52. I am standing outside your fence, looking towards the tram stop I have waited at so many times …

    Strange that after all these years your roses are now somebody's problem. Perhaps a new, partially sighted person has moved into the neighbourhood, or someone who is very lonely indeed and finds the only social interaction open to them is through making faceless complaints?


  53. I had an unruly rose bush like that once, and I know how quickly it can get out of hand. On the other hand, if I was walking down the road and got a rose branch in my eye it wouldn't be much fun. It's all about balance. You were gracious and neighbourly in attending to it as you did.

  54. I'm not sure about my wild personality, Cuban, though I can break rules occasionally, and with occasional wild abandon, though mostly I live within the limits of respectability. Pity though about my unruly roses.

    Thanks, cuban.

  55. Satre certainly had a way with words, Laoch – the hell of other people, indeed. Perhaps he might have included himself here, or on second thoughts perhaps not.

    Thanks, Laoch.

  56. Well you know those roses, Isabel, and maybe you only saw them on a god day, or perhaps, as you say, someone new has moved into the neighbourhood who has more of a problem with them than you and others. On the other hand, the roses themselves may have grown worse in the sense of wilder and dangerous.

    It's good to see you back again, Isabel. I missed you.

  57. Balance indeed, Juliet, and trying to live in reasonable harmony with our neighbours.

    It's so good we can gripe about these things on line and then deal with them graciously in real life.

    Thanks, Juliet.

  58. Your rose bush reminds me of my very similar rose hedge 'Crepuscule' a soft apricot, repeat-flowering and prolific but not really rampant.

    My favourite is the evil and beautiful rose Mermaid with hooked thorns and long branches that snake out and take over the street, never mind the footpath. I can't bear to live without it and hack away at the thorny branches all summer.

  59. Yes! Cold callers my biggest irk I absolutely destest that they invade my home and always seem to call at the most awkward times! Curtain twitches and snitches well there could be any excuse for them couldn't there *chuckles*

  60. Wonderful roses, Mary: Crepuscule and Mermaid, I know them both well. As with most roses, their thorns are treacherous, their flowers magnificent.

    Thanks, Mary.

  61. Thanks for your thoughts about the sunlight on the fence line of my post, Davide. You're right: it's all about the fences we erect to divide us one from the other. Necessary perhaps but also very sad.

  62. There's a contrast between the cold callers who want to win your favour and the complainers who might want to antagonise, Rose. They're also linked, part f the difficulty of our human connection. Thanks for the observation.

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