AUTHOR: Julia TITLE: The Urban Gardener's Dilemma DATE: 4/15/2009 10:57:00 AM ----- BODY:
By most urban standards, I have a huge back-yard – 25 feet by 20 feet. And the side yard adds considerably more gardening space at 11 feet by 15 feet. My wonderful neighbors are an eclectic mix of young families and third generation Cantabrigians. The long-timers give continuity to the neighborhood, enabling the new-comers like me (I’ve only been here 7 years) to feel like we’ve lived here all our lives. Every year in June, we close down the street for a pot-luck street party. Considering I live in the center of Cambridge, MA, I have little to complain about.

But as an urban gardener, I face many challenges because I share “the elements” with my neighbors.

My neighbor on the right is attached to my house. The large trees in their back yard don’t shade my garden, but they generate tons of weeds. The leaves sprout seeds, and in the autumn they all fall into my yard. I diligently rake my vegetable beds at the beginning of the season. And every morning, thoughout the gardening season, as I drink my coffee, I religiously pull weeds to prevent an outbreak.

My neighbor’s house (on the left) is about 15 feet away, just the width of my narrow driveway. The driveway provides the perfect break for the morning sun to peer right onto my vegetables. In his back yard, though, he also has several trees. The other neighbors gather under the canopy of shade and spend lazy summer days reminiscing about “the good ole days,” whilst I lament that it filters the midday sun onto my vegetables. And remind myself that trees are a vital element of the urban landscape.

One tree in his yard abuts my property line. In the last few years, it grew sufficiently to shade my prime gardening patch. I trimmed the leaves as best I could on my side of the fence so that I could maximize my sun without hurting his tree. Last year, he very graciously hired a professional tree service to trim the branches from the offending tree.

But then a strange thing happened last summer… all the plants I sowed along the property line died. Could this tree be emitting some sort of toxic resin? As I was preparing my vegetable beds a few weeks ago, I discovered the problem…. This tree had thick, cord-like roots that spread 20 – 30 feet from the base. These roots were strangling my plants.

So what’s an urban gardener to do? If I cut the roots out of my vegetable beds, I risk killing my neighbor’s tree. But if I don’t, I risk losing my vegetables and other plants.

I need your advice. How do I protect my garden and preserve my neighborly relations?


----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous limeduck DATE:4/15/2009 02:24:00 PM If you struck oil in your back yard, would you let your neighbor slant-drill into your black gold? It would certainly be polite to discuss this with the neighbor, but I don't think you have any obligation.

Drill, baby, drill! ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Karen DATE:4/15/2009 02:54:00 PM If it were me, I'd explain the situation to the neighbor - they may not realize the extent of the problem the tree is causing. It seems like they're trying to be cooperative since they were trimmed the leaves back.

What type of tree is it? If it's a maple or something that is eventually going to be too big for the space, they might see the sense in replacing it now with something more size-appropriate (and possibly prettier). You could offer to split the costs of removal and/or replacement to sweeten the deal.

Alternatively, can you fit in a couple of raised beds and grow some of your veggies on trellises, to make up for the lost space? The paths between the beds would allow water to reach the trees roots. I guess you could put some sort of steel mesh in the bottom of the beds to keep out wandering roots.

I feel your pain - we have a row of Norway maples all along one side of our property, and NOTHING will grow under them. The roots are really tough, too, almost impossible to dig out. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous noble pig DATE:4/15/2009 08:20:00 PM Yeah, you have to discuss it very carefully. I've seen many blow ups about these types of things. But ultimately the roots of his tree should not be interferring with your yard. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Heather DATE:4/15/2009 09:07:00 PM your garden sounds like a slice of heaven - challenges and all! but i know neighbor problems can get frustrating. I have a poodle that lives right next door who is so freaking loud at 4 or 5 am. I'm pretty sure his owners have earned a special spot in hell.

I think it's probably better to say something soon, rather than spend years buying white noise machines and sound proofing your bedroom windows... or moving your whole garden because of a tree. neighbor relations suck. i feel like you've gotta call in a peace negotiator or something. maybe you can offer them some of your veggies grown in that spot as a peace offering? ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger ChristyACB DATE:4/15/2009 09:07:00 PM While trees are a vital part of the urban landscape, the balance is also vital. If a tree is starting to kill your plants, it wouldn't matter if it was prize winning roses or cauliflower, it is still killing your stuff. I'd talk to the neighbor simply because if it died it could fall his way. I'd also offer to split the cost of removing it and replacing it with a less spreading rooted tree. Maybe? ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Anonymous Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) DATE:4/16/2009 08:10:00 AM Neighbor relations are always tricky, no matter how large or small your garden space. I favor the "talk to them" approach, and offer to share a bit of your harvest. I agree -- they might simply be unaware of the problem. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger J-in-Wales DATE:4/18/2009 08:09:00 PM How about going up?
Rather than planting directly into the soil that is shared with the tree roots, could you build a raised bed along your property line? Soil that is shared with tree roots is never going to be ideal for growing veggies - the trees will steal most of the nutrition. With raised beds you can better control the soil that your veggies are growing in - and maintain cordial relations with your neighbour. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Julia DATE:4/19/2009 08:49:00 PM Thanks to all for the wonderful suggestions! I'll keep you posted. ----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Marshall DATE:4/20/2009 10:13:00 PM If I observe that you can just buy vegetables at the store and not worry about it, will I get banned from the blog? ----- --------