Good Fences Make Barely Tolerated Neighbors

I have a hard time with the family who lives in the house behind ours. First they razed the vintage California ranch house that sat on their double lot, and in its place (over the course of two full years) built a 5,500 square foot, two-story McMansion that looms over our back yard. That little project was immediately followed by a one-year-long (no exaggeration!) landscaping project, including the installation of a swimming pool with waterfall that backs noisily up to my vegetable garden. During this extended construction phase, the wife of this couple produced three more children to add to the two she and her husband already had. The children are all screamers who evidently spend their time pulling each other’s hair and knocking each other to the ground, and even the sound of that waterfall cannot camouflage the mayhem of these little darlings at play.

Visitors to our home are typically stunned when they step outside into our back garden and are confronted with the sight, over the back fence, of the top floor of the neighbor’s house. “Is that a hotel?” they ask, with no trace of disingenuousness in their tone. Because the house looks like a posh bed & breakfast or boutique hotel plunked down in the midst of a 1940’s-era residential community.

Yes, it’s true that since the encampment of these arrivistes, others in the neighborhood have also renovated their homes to conform to the McMansion ideal that has become the norm for so many American suburbs. We have Mediterranean-style McMansions, we have Tudoresque and Colonial McMansions, and we have a generous sprinkling of Tuscan and Provence-style McMansions.

It is also true that my own home has undergone its share of renovations over the 60 years since it was built. While today it would likely be considered a tear-down (in this neighborhood), earlier owners had other ideas. Someone added a family room off the back, and someone else converted what we think must have been an attached garage into a master bedroom and bathroom. And yet, our home is still under 2,400 square feet and for the three people who live here (and one cat who takes up her full share of elbow room) it is plenty of space. I am not complaining, not by a long shot.

The one thing that makes me only slightly less hostile to the neighbors is the fact that their garden is truly lovely. Not surprisingly, they didn’t bother to ask us before they planted several thriving varieties of invasive, trailing, kudzu-like vines that grow over from their side of our back fence (which we installed – and paid for in full – while their new house was being built because the on-site construction manager had a large and predatory guard dog that terrorized my daughter on a regular basis). However, there are now, finally, some gorgeous things growing there, such as this:

Passion flowers are a favorite of mine, even though I spend way too much time killing the volunteers that pop up in my raised bed vegetable garden and that have to be prized loose from my tomato cages. When I see them in bloom like this I soften, just barely, in spite of myself.

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