Urban gardener, Cleve West: Our furry friends

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The Independent Online

When the branch of Cotinus coggygria landed more or less on top of my head, my first reaction was to be grateful that it wasn't a hawthorn or anything else suitably armed. I'd been aware of some lopping the other side of the fence, but falling debris from the smoke bush still caught me off-guard. When a hand then appeared to deposit a few extra twigs in our garden it became obvious that my neighbour at the bottom of our garden was exercising his right to dispose of overhanging branches that were so bold as to invade his airspace. The interesting thing here was that the offending tree wasn't growing from my garden but that of my next-door neighbour's. When I told the hand that it was throwing debris into the wrong garden, it went suitably limp and embarrassed, and offered to take it back, by which time my gander was up and I gave a curt response to show my feelings on the subject.

It's an odd law, giving people the right to damage someone else's property and then giving it back to them. Now I know that sounds a bit extreme, but by dropping branches into a neighbour's garden without being able to see where the branch is going to land, there's a chance of damaging plants. Or even spoiling the hair-do of anyone working below minding their own business.

Of course there are plenty of occasions where pruning is absolutely necessary. However, some people like to perform this action regardless of whether it's near the house or somewhere where it's not doing anyone any harm at all. I've seen many cases where overhanging trees have been ruthlessly clipped back to the invisible boundary that extends skywards, upsetting the overall balance of the tree and spoiling the view from the side of the neighbour doing the cutting.

The cotinus is long gone, though I am reminded about this experience daily by our next door neighbour's Actinidia deliciosa (Kiwifruit or Chinese gooseberry) whose long, arching, red-haired stems and lush rounded leaves have made astonishing progress half way across our garden in the past two years. It's fighting a battle with Muehlenbeckia complexa, both of which are now trying to gain the upper hand on our dead pear tree and the garden shed. We had intended to get rid of the tree but it provided such a perfect structure for birds feeding in our garden that we decided to leave it until a newly planted Lomatia ferruginea reached a decent height. Caught under the dense canopy of duelling climbing plants, the lomatia, despite its ability to put up with a bit of shade, croaked. The sensible thing to do might be to take everything out and start again. However, the unruly vine provides us not only with the sort of disorder we are fond of, but also a fantastic bouncy perch for all sorts of acrobatic birds, especially starlings, who have suddenly found the trapeze-like action of waiting in line all the more exciting.

Our neighbours have spotted the vine's encroachments and have offered to cut it back but seeing as it gives both us and the birds so much entertainment, there doesn't seem to be much point. With climate change there's always a chance that the vine will decide to set fruit.

Admittedly we'll need to plant a male variety close-by (for pollination) and pray for a long growing season (around 250 frost-free days I'm told), but if it happens we'll be suitably placed to harvest the furry brown fruit famed for its succulent flesh and high concentration of vitamin C. "Ah!" I hear you say, "But don't you have to give the fruit back to our neighbour?" Technically speaking, yes, the fruit will still belong to them - though we are only duty bound to give them back if we pick them or cut a branch with fruit on it.

Fortunately we are on good terms with our neighbours and, if we are lucky enough to see fruit one day, I'm sure we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement provided we can get to the fruit before the starlings. Avian gymnastics is one thing but, if it comes to a fight, our respect for the birds will dissipate quicker than Morning Glory at noon as we reach for a mighty powerful water pistol.

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