Saturday, April 16, 2016

What's a garden without trees?

Can you imagine this space without the Magnolia tree on the left?  Or the peppermint willow (Agonis flexuosa) on the right?  Or the red-barked Arbutus 'Marina' in the distance?  I can't.


I hadn't planned to focus on trees for today's Foliage Follow-up post created in connection with the monthly meme hosted by Pam at Digging but another exchange with my foliage-hating neighbor up the street shifted my attention back to my trees this week.  If you've read my blog for awhile, you may recall that my city has a "view conservation" ordinance that allows homeowners to pursue claims against neighbors when they believe their views (or at least the views in place at the time the ordinance went into effect in November 1989) are obstructed.  We didn't know anything about this ordinance until almost a year after we moved in, when one of our neighbors approached us about the very large Eucalyptus on the south side of our property.  After educating ourselves on the ordinance's provisions, we finally agreed to take down the tree in the interest of good neighbor relations, even though the tree had clearly been in place well prior to the ordinance's effective date.

I thought all was well until almost 2 years later the same neighbor ambushed me as I was working in the front garden with yet another demand.  As I thought we'd already gone to an extreme to accommodate her concerns, I was taken aback.  After a lot of discussion, my husband and I decided to remove a second tree from our backyard border and trim back most of the remaining trees in the neighbor's line of sight.  In addition to removing the one tree, I committed to an annual tree trimming schedule.  This past December, I once again made good on my commitment and thinned the foliage of a dozen trees, reducing some crowns as well, to the extent that this could be done without endangering the trees in question.

After all that, the neighbor approached me again on the same theme as I was taking out the trash cans and picking up our mail Wednesday evening.  I told her that I felt we'd gone out of our way to accommodate her concerns when we removed the Eucalyptus and, subsequently, a second tree.  I pointed to how thoroughly the tree next to me had been thinned.

This photo shows how deeply we "laced" the Agonis in this corner of the property.  The Arbutus next to it, as well as a Pyrus calleryana, 5 other Agonis, 3 other Arbutus and our Magnolia were also cut back.


She thinks the trees are "too tall."  Based on the exchange we had the prior year, I know she'd like a large number of them to be removed entirely.

The two Arbutus 'Marina' in the backyard

The Albizia julibrissin that occupies a central position along the top of the slope in the back border

The lone remaining Agonis flexuosa in the backyard border

Another Agonis flexuosa in the side garden, along the slope there (backed by a tree-size Heteromeles arbutifolia)


She appears to believe that, if she pays the cost of removing the plants she sees as problematic, I should be satisfied.  The only tree on her property is a pine about 5 feet tall.  I suspect the only trees on our property that may meet her approval may be these:

Dwarf Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsubusa', currently about 2 feet tall

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku', between 5 and 6 feet tall


This time, I'm holding firm.  I feel we've already acted within the spirit of the ordinance.  I also feel that the removal of trees, especially in a period of severe drought, is unconscionable.  Trees not only provide a framework for the garden, they protect the other plants within it, providing shade and preventing the loss of moisture in the soil.  They help cool the house too.  And I expect they help to stabilize the ground, especially where the the surfaces slope.  I can't imagine my garden without our trees, only a portion of which I've shown in this post.  Can you?  I know the State of California has invalidated local ordinances that prohibited homeowners from pulling out water-sucking lawns - doesn't it also seem that the state has an interest in preserving trees?  No one knows how long the current drought will persist - some people claim it could last for 50 years or more.  Establishing new plants, not to speak of new trees, under our current water restrictions would be difficult to say the least.

I've told my neighbor to the west that I think I've done what is right by her and my garden so the next step is hers.  If she wishes to file a complaint with the city's view restoration commission, she has to start with an informal complaint to us in writing, to which I'll respond in detail.  To file a formal complaint with the city, she has to pay an application fee, which I understand is currently on the order of $5000.  Then, we'll see if she has any flying monkeys to release.  I'm reasonably certain she doesn't have any talking trees at her disposal.

My apologies if this sounds like a rant instead of a homage to foliage.  Please visit Pam at Digging to find other foliage-focused posts.


All material © 2012-2016 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party


39 comments:

  1. Oh Kris, what a pain. It does sound as though she is trying it on now. You're right to see how far she will push it.

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    1. She threatens a LOT and although I've heard that she's initiated the process by sending letters of complaint, I've yet to be able to confirm any formal filings with the city. A number of neighbors told me I should have fought the issue the last time she raised it but my husband was in favor of saving the peace so I caved. Even he isn't pushing to accommodate her this time.

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    2. that sounds familiar. My Swiss husband likes to be a 'good neighbour'.

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  2. I admire your patience and restraint. I would have long since told that neighbor to kindly go f*#! themselves. Enough is enough, though. You've bent over backwards for her, now it's your turn to stand firm. You're absolutely right that removing trees at all, and especially during a drought, is counter to all good sense. All your points are valid, from shading the ground and house to conserving moisture, to stabilizing the soil. Tree roots can spread to two or even three times the diameter of their canopy. Removing those trees could have far reaching effects on a hillside once the roots start to break down. Trees also slow down air movement (reducing water loss) and increase humidity much more than smaller plants, which also helps to conserve water and reduce the need for irrigation.

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    1. The 30 page document detailing the city's guidelines and procedures is intimidating, Evan, but I've been told the ordinance doesn't have the teeth my neighbor claims it does. It isn't cheap for her to proceed either. In addition to a $5k application fee, I understand that the complainant can be required to pay for relevant studies (e.g effect of tree removal on slope stability) and I'll push for ecological reviews of all sorts there if it comes to it. Should the city mandate removal or trimming of foliage, the complainant is also required to pay that cost plus cover any actions required to restore the foliage-owner's property, which I understand could include replacing plants, trees, etc. plus carrying insurance to cover any subsequent litigation filed by the foliage-owner. Then there's the whole drought angle, which adds an entirely new viewpoint to this ordinance and how it's enforced. I don't want to go to battle but I will.

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  3. I agree with Rusty Duck...what a pain.
    Sounds like this neighbor will never be happy, until all the trees are out of her view.
    Stand firm. You've gone above and beyond, already.

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    1. Thanks for the support, Linda. I can't be sure what her view was in 1989 as we didn't move here until December 2010, but it's safe to say that the 60 foot Eucalyptus tree we inherited with the property was a major obstruction to her view even back then. I think she wants to view she had when she moved in - or perhaps even a wholly unobstructed view - and the ordinance doesn't give her that.

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  4. She obviously saw your initial neighborly, conciliatory gesture of removing the eucalypt as a weakness to be exploited. Her behavior borders on pathologic. Talk about control issues! Glad to hear you're standing your ground on this one.

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    1. It certainly seems that she's a serial complainer, Denise. I should have been more suspicious from the outset I suppose. She pressed me (and another new neighborhood resident) to agree to a welcome party she wanted to host for us at her home. As I was dealing with serious elder care issues that stretched me thin, I politely but repeatedly declined (as did the other new neighbor, for nearly identical reasons). I couldn't figure out why she hounded me on it - I assumed she might just be lonely - but I've since concluded that it was manipulative behavior. It seems she only holds housewarming parties for new neighbors in her immediate line of sight.

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  5. In Porterville, the tree lovers complained about new residents who didn't like the messy fallen leaves, and felled the street trees outside their house. So shortsighted.

    Here on False Bay we were asked to remove trees by a neighbour - roots, shade, their lawn etc. So we did. Now they 'grow' two racks of kayaks, mint and a chili plant.

    We had to keep asking the neighbour on the other side to remove an invasive Brazilian pepper tree, which was determined to climb into our kitchen.

    Now we will trim for good neigbourliness, but our trees stay!

    Good luck! To you in your battle, and your trees in their future.
    It makes the neigbourhood hotter and more unpleasant as we ALL lose the kinder micro-climate.

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    1. Sadly, the environmental concerns seem utterly lost on the complaining neighbor, Diana. I brought those issues up even during the first discussion and more forcefully during the second but she blows me off just as she did this time - it's as if she doesn't even hear me. That confirmed, more clearly than anything else, that she expects to bully her way through rather than come to a mutual understanding. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where the community as a whole stands on what I think is now an outdated and inappropriate ordinance.

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    2. came across this on Google Plus
      https://plus.google.com/+TreyPitsenberger/posts/7RP1ejdVRN3
      he is a nurseryman from California

      The research article is
      https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160414170015.htm

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    3. Thanks for the links, Diana! As the complainant has just one tiny tree on her own property, perhaps that means she won't be troubling me (or other neighbors) too far into the future. In any case, if she puts her complaint in writing, I'll be sure to provide her a copy of this research with my response.

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  6. Oh I so feel for you Kris, it’s not nice to have a case like this between neighbours, but what can you do – you certainly shouldn’t accommodate your neighbours every whim! Stand firm and wait for her to take the case further. I assume the high application fee is to deter people exactly like her from raising cases that shouldn’t waste the city’s time and money – hopefully common sense will prevail!

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    1. I think she has more money than sense, Helene. She's so single-minded that I wonder if she can be logical about the matter. I don't think the environmental issues I raised even register with her but she's got to know that what I've done already is likely to be material in the eyes of the view restoration commission, if it comes to that.

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  7. Aaarrgh. I know I've said it before, but your neighbor is a royal pain. I like what you wrote about the ordinance, though--it sounds like it does a pretty good job of protecting your rights as the tree owner. My fingers are crossed for you...

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    1. thanks for the good wishes, Emily. I've searched on-line but there's no data on how many cases the city commission has heard, nor input on how those complaints were resolved. It appears that at least 2 cases were appealed to the courts (apparently without favorable decisions for the foliage-owners) but those cases are more than 5 years old and the drought wasn't a factor then.

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  8. Oh good lord...what a tree-hating busy body!!! You've been such a good neighbor, I am so glad your standing your ground - for the reasons you detail and it's the right thing to do.

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    1. Between the drought and this neighbor, we're beginning to wonder if we should stay here, especially as we no longer have family obligations nearby. We started talking about moving again. I mentioned Portland but my husband's more interested in the Seattle area as his brother's on Vashon. We could definitely get more land there than we could ever afford here.

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  9. Trees should be valued as an asset to the property. They provide aesthetic and environmental value. We also live in SoCal and even when our water district cut our water budget, they said save your trees. They are essential for slope stabilization and climate control. Once you give in to a serial complainer it never ends. Also, if there are any bird nests in your trees, it is illegal in California to disturb them according to the migratory bird act.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I know Governor Brown has made an issue of saving trees during our drought so I'm hoping that concern might persuade the state to look at the ordinance should the city be foolish enough to ignore the drought issue. I have lots of birds in my garden, although most may be year-round residents rather than migrants. However, I have seen what I believe were orioles recently. If it comes to a battle, perhaps I can demand a review by an ornithologist, though (at the complainant's expense).

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  10. It becomes desert with no trees ...
    I feel sorry for you,I would be crazy to have such a neighbor...
    Mariana

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    1. She does indeed make me crazy, Mariana. My blood pressure rises whenever I see her.

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  11. It' s difficult to understand why anybody would expect their neighbours to get rid of beautiful mature trees. I wonder if she is jealous of your beautiful garden. Stand firm Kris, she is being unreasonable.

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    1. I honestly think she has an aversion to plants of any kind. The area around her house is virtually barren. As best I can tell, she has just one 5-foot pine near her door and a sea of juniper on her slope. She used to have a very small spot of dirt at the bottom of her driveway under her mailbox but last year she even concreted that over!

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  12. I wish you success in holding on to your beautiful trees, Kris. Moving to Seattle or Portland would help with your incredibly long and hot summers, though the trend here is to hotter, I even succeeded in getting a decent crop of heat-loving eggplants last summer, and hope to even grow some okra this year. But the cool nights last so many months....

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    1. It'd be hard to leave my friends here too, Hannah, and that's likely to hold us (although I think my husband likes the notion of living nearer to his brother). Still, the idea of having more space between me and my neighbors is rather appealing right now!

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  13. I think you have been extraordinarily considerate. It seems that given an inch, now your neighbor wants a mile! You are right in your comments about the importance of trees. Stand firm!

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    1. I've finally accepted that there's no appeasing this woman (short of cutting down every tree on the property). There's no dialogue - just threats - so, yes, I intend to fight it out this time.

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  14. It was too much to hope that your neighbor would just let it go, wasn't it...? You certainly have all the sanity on your side, Kris! I definitely understand your thinking about moving; comparatively very small neighborhood pressures were involved in our leaving San Diego after only one year. Honestly, I've not regretted the decision! In any case, your trees are gorgeous and are adding a great deal to the view and to your neighborhood in every way!!

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    1. I guess it was, Amy. I've seldom dealt with anyone so single-minded. Our city and the entire peninsula on which we live is named for our green hills. If it were up to the neighbor, I guess we'd rename the city "Harbor View."

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  15. Oh, Kris, this is dreadful. It is hard to live happily when there are disputes with neighbours and it seems to me you have done far more than is necessary to keep relations sweet. Make a stand this time; the shade the trees provides is a major contribution to saving water so I think you have a very good case to keep them. What kind of garden does your neighbour have - I would bet it is GRASS - the worst possible option for the environment.

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    1. Her "garden" consists of one very small pine tree and a mass of junipers - oh, and lots of concrete. It's not a thirsty landscape but I'd argue that it doesn't contribute much to the health of the environment either.

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  16. Maybe you could call on the Lorax?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V06ZOQuo0k

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    1. Totally on point. This neighbor would probably call the sheriff's department to have the Lorax arrested as a suspicious character, Eric. She certainly doesn't listen any better than the Once-Ler.

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  17. Sorry to hear what's been happening. That is so upsetting and you feel attacked in your own home that you have worked so hard on.

    Document everything that you have done. Save receipts to show the cost. It shows good will and sincere effort to accommodate. That counts in a legal dispute. Good evidence to have, it will help you if it comes to that.

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    1. I kept records of my exchanges with the complainant and the actions taken in good will with respect to the ordinance from the outset. I've recently organized them to facilitate retrieval should it come to that. I hate this.

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  18. Oh man. Your neighbor is being a complete pain in the butt. I hope you prevail and can keep your beautiful trees. You certainly should!

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    1. The neighbor certainly tests my patience, Sweetbay.

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