We don’t fuck around in East London. As will become abundantly clear in a minute. But first, I want to indulge in some poetry.
In school we studied a poem by Robert Frost called Mending Wall.
“There is something that does not love a wall,” Frost begins, before banging on about having to go to all the bother of mending a tumbled-down stone wall between his property and his neighbour’s.
The poem has several key themes but is really about two different approaches to life. Frost isn’t sure why they even need this wall at all, so why are they forever rebuilding this artificial division between them, while the neighbour just repeats the old proverb, “good fences makes good neighbours”.
I think we’re all kinda one or the other, aren’t we? Either Frost, or his neighbour.
Anyway, I mention all this because:
a) Invoking a four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet makes me sound way smarter than I actually am, when I’m actually just a smug wanker regurgitating crap I learned in Year Eleven English, and
b) We’ve built a wall.
There is something that does not love a wall
Here’s why we’ve built a wall. This was the fence we inherited in front of our house.
Note the attention to detail, the craftsmanship. The way the panels come at you from two separate heights. The way the palings have been spaced wide enough apart that, in the unlikely event the hunt should come through this part of town, the fox and the hounds can barrel straight through it without causing any damage, even as the local aristocracy crash through your living room window.
This was not a good fence. It was being strangled by ivy from next door, it looked ugly, it was poorly constructed and it hardly provided any shelter at all for the woman who decided to stop and take a piss behind it last weekend.
(The wonderful Laura, who lives upstairs, interrupted the woman mid-flow. Apparently suddenly overcome with startling clarity that what she was doing was not good for property prices, the woman yanked up her knickers and dashed up the street. Which would have been fine. If she’d remembered to take her handbag.)
In short, our fence was not providing the sort of privacy everyone needs — neither us, nor the neighbours, nor Miss Jenny Bradbury of 58 Rhodesia Road London, E11 4DF, driver’s licence number DVW12081993XKY48.
So, we got a man in.
I mean I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen anything this beautiful since Cher won the Oscar for Moonstruck. That’s reclaimed East London yellow brick and reclaimed York Stone — which I understand is the same stuff they used on Cher’s cheekbones.
Gardener’s Question Time, with Miss Marple
I believe I have previously mentioned the fantastic woman who lives over the road, who is something of a one-woman neighbourhood watch. East London’s answer to Miss Marple.
She’s been incredibly helpful. Whenever you need anything, she knows the right local person for the job. Central heating needs fixing? She knows just the guy. Got some paving slabs to get rid of? She knows someone who will take them off your hands. Want someone’s legs broken for a good price? She’ll cut you a deal.
We’ve taken to sharing gardening magazines. She slipped one through my door to read, which I thought was marvelously generous. And, to my delight, she’d scribbled acerbic notes on every other page.
Naturally, I’m filling these magazines up with Post-Its full of bitchiness and sending them back.
Yesterday I started preparing the garden bed behind our new wall, in readiness for the box hedge I’ll be planting in behind it. Our dear neighbour came over to have a gossip, so I picked her brains about a couple of things.
I’d worked myself up into a tizzy about a disease called box blight, which is killing hedges across the UK and which ‘Miss Marple’ had previously told me she’d seen in our street.
I was worried because, while I was digging away in the front garden, I noticed a dead patch in next door’s hedge. Having Googled “box blight” symptoms, I could tell that’s what we were dealing with. What did that mean for the £250 I’d just spent on 11 mature box trees?
“What do you think — is it box blight?” I asked, pointing at the worrisome plant.
“No,” she said firmly.
“Oh! That’s a relief. You seem so certain!”
“Well, that’s not box.”
By this point, I had spent quite a bit of time doing the backbreaking work of creating a garden bed, pulling up pavers and digging what felt like tonnes of compost into the sand and soil.
“I’m worried,” I said, “that’s it’s not deep enough to fit the box.”
“It’s not,” she said.
Which rather doubled my workload.
So, I now have some extra width (it comes to us all in the end, I’m told) which means I can under-plant the hedge with a million lovely shade-loving things, that will create a stunning display from the living room window for me to survey, as I’m looking out, waiting for people to piss in my newly created sanctuary.
Atrophy and ivy, together in less than perfect harmony
While chatting about our wall and our impending hedge, we briefly touched on the ivy growing through the remaining picket fence (between us and our neighbour, as you can see above).
Miss Marple’s front fence is so completely covered in ivy that I thought it was an actual wall.
“No, it’s a picket fence,” she told me, proudly telling me how she’d weaved it through as it grew, to ensure it looked a million dollars. And it does.
So, imagine the horror and surprise of coincidence when she awoke this morning to find someone had kicked a hole in her ivy and fence? You can’t see it terribly well in this picture, because she’s had a go at filling it in, but here it is.
It was, as you will understand, deeply upsetting for her.
The astute observer will have noticed there is a little sign up in the top right-hand corner. It’s really this sign that got me thinking about Robert Frost and his mending wall. Because there aren’t two kinds of people of people in this world, there are three.
The first kind builds walls.
The second kind tears them down.
The third kind lives in East London. And they don’t fuck about.
Join my garden journey progress from the start, here.
Read the next blog post in this series here.