Some years ago, this was the scene at the back of my house:
(Edited to preserve anonymity.)
The person in the blue dress, with the broom, is moving in on a pile of bindweed roots. There was a lot of bindweed, back then. Lots of weeds generally, to be honest – but as you may know already, bindweed is a tough one to eliminate.
The other person in the picture, represented by part of a denim-clad leg, is me. I’m trying to create a bit of order out of land that, though it doesn’t belong to us, lies immediately outside our garden gate. Look how carefully I have arranged all those bricks.
Not just around the “flower bed” (optimistic name for it) but also further back, beside the composting bin. I piled them up with a few slabs of concrete as a series of steps.
In the 21 years we’ve lived here, we’ve seen others do this kind of thing. Particularly, but not only, when newcomers settle in. They make an effort to tidy up, and sometimes they (we) keep at it for a long while.
But when builders came, to pull down the care home on the other side of the road and construct the new homes, most of us gave up. Too much noise at all hours, too many vehicles parking right up on the flowers we had planted. The verges became a wilderness.
The building work has stopped now. But the new residential building attracts more vehicles down the narrow lane than ever before. As often as not, those vans and lorries drive along the pavement.
And they park on the verges.
That’s the same bit of land, by the way.
In the years since the young person outgrew that blue dress, we’ve put in all kinds of things, including but not only buddleia, plum, fig, rosemary, bay, wallflowers and a delightfully multicoloured assortment of hollyhock.
In doing this, we’ve been assisted many times by B., who I’ll come back to shortly. And by others too. So it’s more than a little annoying when people park on it.
Of course, it’s not actually our land, so perhaps I have no right to complain.
Even land that doesn’t belong to us can be made to look magnificent, if we can only find a way to keep everyone happy.
This picture shows a flowerbed on land beside the houses on Prospect Place/Ridge Road. It’s owned by Barnet Homes. A substantial amount of the work on that flowerbed has been carried out, over many years, by B., who prefers not to make a big deal of it (hence no full name).
I was talking to him the other day while he stood there digging. A wasp hovered around my bare toes.
There used to be large houses there, he said. They faced forwards, looking into Prospect Road, not over Ridge Road like the buildings there now. His own grandmother and aunt lived in those houses.
So he’s digging and planting up a flowerbed on land that he doesn’t own, but which obviously means a lot to him.
I would have stayed and talked more, but at that point the wasp stung me.
He’s has done it again this year, at the bottom end of Prospect Place. There’s a scrubby area overlooking All Saints School, which for most of the time I’ve lived here has been the playground of foxes and shady characters, who, whether or not they are dealing in illegal substances, enjoy chucking litter around the place.
Recently another generous neighbour, H., who lives at the bottom of Prospect Place, paid somebody to clear the land.
Then B. came in, digging a large flowerbed and filling it with plants. Here’s a picture from the spring:
And here it is more recently.
It looks even better in sunshine.
I was talking to the vicar of All Saints recently.
As you may know, Fr Robin has been working with neighbours, Barnet Homes and the council to improve the pathway leading up to the school, and the church, from Cricklewood Lane.
The work was carried out with financial support from the Brent Cross South Development Fund, and with heavy lifting by P., who lives a few doors down from me, on Prospect Road, and ongoing weeding by J., who lives on Church Walk.
Now Fr Robin has applied for additional funds, to improve the verge behind our houses. (The land is owned by All Saints Church.) One thing he would like to is put railway sleepers along the edge, to stop unnecessary parking on the soil.
After looking through a lot of dusty paperwork he’s discovered a list of the plants originally put in on that verge (no bindweed). If the funding comes through he proposes to buy those same plants, to put in all the way up the road.
I’d be glad to do my bit. And I’ll ask the person with the broom, who used to wear the blue dress.