Over the Neighbour’s Fence
English gardens are typically enclosed spaces, surrounded by high fences or hedges which protect the space from neighbours’ prying eyes. Some large traditional gardens even have hedges within the garden, breaking up the space into even smaller “garden rooms”. It is as if vast open spaces are too frightening, reminders of the surrounding wilderness and high walls are needed to tame and protect the space, to make it more cosy and comforting.
Our garden is very different from a typical enclosed English garden. It has an informal, open structure and the views beyond are not blocked off by high barriers. You really get a sense that the garden is part of a much bigger landscape, most of which can be visually appreciated at once.
There’s a historical reason why this is so. Our cottage and garden were originally part of a bigger estate, the main building of which is our neighbours’ house. The two gardens, ours and the neighbours’, were part of the same large garden that was surrounded by fields and woodland. The estate used to belong to an aristocratic lady, who came here at weekends to entertain her high society friends. After her death, the estate was broken up and all the cottages sold separately to different people.
The lady was very much a garden lover, and it is at her time that the garden was built and shaped (helped by several full time gardeners). As a garden lover myself, it is wonderful to have a garden that has such an interesting history.
Although the woodlands surrounding the estate do provide the protective barrier that seems so essential to English gardens, the garden itself was left largely an open space, with shrubs and trees providing some structure and interest, but by no means breaking up the space into formal rooms. The overall effect is open and natural, more like a parkland rather than a rigidly structured garden.
When the estate was divided, a rather artificial looking fence was built to separate the garden into separate lots. Thankfully the fence is not very high, and you can easily see over it, and pretend that the garden is still a unified space. The cost is some loss of privacy, of course, but we gain a sense of having a much larger garden than we actually have, and the best of all, we have a good view of the woodland beyond (which belongs to a different neighbour).
Given that the view is so lovely, I often take photos of the woodland over the neighbours’ fence. The trees at the edge of the woodland are just magnificent, and the view and the colours of course change throughout the season. My zoom is not quite long enough to give super-sharp and detailed pictures, but I can just about zoom over the neighbour’s garden right into the trees at the edge of the forest.
Now that the leaves are gone, you can really appreciate the structure of the trees. And on a frosty morning last weekend, the branches were covered with white dusting of frost, bringing out their shape perfectly against the dark background.
One day, I’d love to be able to climb over the fence into my neighbour’s garden and get closer to the trees. For this, I would need a permission, of course, and I am never quite proactive enough to ask for it. So, for now at least, I just need to rely on the zoom.