Home: In the Garden: War of the Roses

My next-door neighbor can’t fence me — or my flowers — in

The very first time my husband and I looked at the house, I knew we were in trouble. We loved everything about the big old Victorian twin in Montco: the stately white-pillared porch, the high ceilings, the sunny dining room, the enormous kitchen. But when we walked out into the backyard, I had a moment’s pause. Across the flimsy wire fence separating the backyard from its twin’s, our potential next-door neighbors’ garden showed worrisome signs. The evergreens all had brand-new buzz cuts. The grass was plush green velvet. The paint on the shed was fresh and gleaming. In the beds, discrete patches of flowers were surrounded by tidy stretches of rich brown mulch.

Just then, the neighbors’ back door opened, and a man came out. He was carrying a can of paint and a paintbrush.

“Excuse me,” I said. “If we buy this house, will we have to keep our yard as neat as yours?”

He grinned at me. “That’s up to you, I guess.” And then he began to repaint the already immaculate shed.

You know how sometimes you just can’t help rising to a challenge? We bought the other half of his twin. We moved in with our kids and cats and furniture and composting bin. We started planting a garden. And thus began a 15-year war that continues to this day.

The neighbors in the other half of our twin, Jim and Charl, are lovely people. They take in UPS packages for us, carry our trash cans back from the curb, share re-roofing costs with us. They put up with our barking dog and our screaming offspring. We’ve none of us had so much as one cross word with each other in 15 years. Yet Charl and I have carried on a constant, unrelenting battle, just the same. Our weapons? Shovels and trowels, fertilizer and compost. The field of war? Those backyards. The stakes? Bragging rights, I guess. Charl and I see the world in wildly divergent ways, and it shows in our gardens. I want to bend her view, and she wants to bend mine.