Helen Martin: Garden woes tip you over the hedge

Leylandii trees grow at an alarming rate and are a real nuisance for neighbours. Picture: Bill Henry

Leylandii trees grow at an alarming rate and are a real nuisance for neighbours. Picture: Bill Henry

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ALMOST two years ago, we decided to revamp the front garden which had been designed in the Thirties, and never touched since, bar our own feeble ­attempts to tame the ­untameable.

The hedge had gone woody and was leaning at a tipsy angle out towards the pavement. Ever decreasing circles of “chucky” stones, flower beds and crazy paving surrounded a postage stamp of grass in the middle, flanked by come again weeds which had withstood everything from flame throwers to root killer.

It was all ripped out and laid to lawn with a simple path to the front door and a new hedge planted. The neighbours were delighted at their new view, even though it left us exposed because privet hedges do not grow overnight. As we have now discovered, they don’t grow much over two years. It will take about five before it affords us any privacy at all. So I can understand the temptation to plant something that grows quickly.

But unless your favourite hobby is weekly hedge clipping, a leylandii is not the answer. These horrendous plants make triffids look as benign as buttercups. They soar skywards, blocking out light and plunging neighbouring gardens into permanent shade so Scotland’s High Hedges Act which came into force in April was a Godsend, giving councils the power to issue a high hedge notice and force the owners to cut it back.

Neighbours of Fred the Shred Goodwin, below, couldn’t wait and hacked his monstrous Colinton leylandii down when it reached 25 feet. It seems they had the right idea, because the down-side of the Act we now discover, is that although we can apply to the council to step in and force the Freds of this world to be considerate, mannerly and chop down their hedge, it will cost us hundreds of pounds.

With dozens of applications now being lodged around the country, it transpires councils don’t charge the perpetrator who planted it or who owns it and is too lazy to keep it trimmed.

They charge the victim, up to a maximum of £500 just for applying for them to come and inspect it.

It took more than a decade for this law to be formulated, agreed and find its way onto the statute book, so MSPs had more than enough time to ponder over a just and fair solution.

Now we also have Japanese knotweed which today features on every house purchase survey albeit usually in a get-out phrase to the effect that the surveyor can’t guarantee there isn’t any.

Japanese knotweed is invasive and can even work through the foundations of a neighbour’s house as well as the owner’s.

In a built up city such as Edinburgh where housing is cripplingly expensive, gardens border each other and nine or ten families can be affected in one tenement, careless and selfish planting or negligence in even noticing you are harbouring a vicious and damaging weed should be a punishable offence.

It can make your neighbour’s house impossible to sell, leave their garden in perpetual gloom, wreck their drains and damage the structure.

More powers for the Scottish Parliament are to be welcomed. But perhaps they could spare a few Holyrood hours strengthening the powers they already have in a sensible way that doesn’t punish the innocent.

Chicken checks really pointless

THE campylobacter controversy continues with the Food Standards Agency now poised to name and shame shops and supermarkets who sell poultry with the highest levels of the bug.

This is a pointless witch hunt that’s been dragging on for years. Yes, campylobacter causes food poisoning. But a chicken is not something synthetic.

It’s a living beast which, like us, has bacteria and bugs in its gut. If we choose to eat it, we have to know how to handle and cook it to safely kill off the bugs.

The answer is not checking every chicken outlet in the land but reintroducing the appropriately named Domestic Science in schools. And anyone who sneers at that because it’s not “academic” should consider what good an honours degree in maths or law is if the graduate can’t cook a meal without poisoning themselves.

Gas pay offer is over-inflated

AT last business leaders and even the Institute of Directors have described a fat-cat pay package proposal as “excessive, inflammatory and bringing the whole of British business into disrepute”.

Mind you, the focus of their condemnation is an astonishing £25 million offered by BG Group, British Gas’s former oil and gas division, to its new chief executive. Britain’s reputation as a divided nation where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is an international shame and this eyebrow-raising deal takes the biscuit.

No-one is worth that money at the best of times, let alone when thousands of British families can’t afford to eat. It is an obscenity that serves to stoke calls for a cap on the rewards of boardroom players and proves the theory so many “captains” of industry are narcissists with crazy delusions of grandeur.

ROAD TO RUIN

DRIVING into the city centre to pick up a disabled relative from the bus station, I had to stop illegally outside Harvey Nicks, was detoured down cramped lanes and directed along tram lines. Encouraging public transport? No, next time I’ll drive to Glasgow to pick her up.