Last night I was walking around the neighbourhood on a warm summer’s evening. In part to give the Master and Little Lady some exercise and to give the Lady a few minutes of peace at home. In part to find some wild strawberries that grow near us. Nothing beats a bit of family foraging
Wild strawberries are probably the most delicious of all berries and to add to their appeal, they are not easily cultivated and don’t produce much berries per plant. The area where we live used to be covered in them and even now, in nooks and crannies and between bogey lanes and beside garden walls, wild strawberries grow. There’s something heartwarming about watching a kid pick a berry and eat it. Thanks to our neighbourhood, it’s is like pick your own at home!
So, we went out with a jug to find some – it’s a nice family activity but alas we didn’t pick any this time. I did however see one garden which had loads growing. I was very tempted to knock on their door and ask if I could pick them. However, the house in question was previously rented by friends of ours who moved about 9 months ago and the new people living there don’t appear to be very approachable. They also haven’t touched the garden at all since they moved in and it looks like a Scottish nature reserve. I’m talking about wild weeds and tall grasses, large enough to lose a toddler in!
Walking around at 8pm in the evening, it always strikes me how few people are outdoors. No kids, no teenagers, no adults, no pensioners (also no paedos, no stalkers, no thieves, no prowlers and no murderers). AND this includes people sitting in their gardens – the whole place is like a ghost town! Maybe everyone is watching TV (which you avid readers will know is not my bag). It makes me wonder what the point of a garden is? It is just a millstone around your neck? Something to enjoy? A barrier from the rest of humanity (if every Englishman’s home is his castle, his garden is his moat!)
Now, our street has a range of property styles and that makes a good mix. However, the range of garden maintenance is even bigger. Walking around your neighbourhood can tell you a lot about who lives in each house. Now, I’m not saying that everyone should have perfect gardens and white picket fences. But some gardens were a total mess which is fine if you are encouraging bees to thrive but I think that it comes down to a simple idea which is counterintuitive.
There is a theory called the tragedy of the commons which says that anything that is commonly owned is universally abused. Be it fishing rights on a river (consequence no fish left) or parking spaces (parking mayhem as you can see from APILN). The irony is that we live about 100m from a lovely park and it was because of this park that we decided that we didn’t want to live in a house with a garden. The garden not only costs a lot of money (maybe £50k extra) but every nice weekend for half the year you’ll be labouring away. I can just pay my council tax and benefit from the park instead – for me that’s the triumph of the commons!
So at 8pm there’s no one around and I can see that these gardens which cost a lot in terms of property value and time/money for maintenance are not being used. But the worst gardens are those in houses which are rented. If you are renting – do you think that you should bother keeping the garden tidy? If you rent a hire car – do you wash it before returning it? Of course not!
But with more and more houses being rented out – either by accidental landlords or by the BTL brigade who reckon they can pay £200 a month in interest (tax deductible of course) and get £800 a month in rent. It’s a money making machine – just so long as you don’t spend any money on things like maintenance and that definitely includes paying a gardener to tidy up the garden once a month for half a year.
It’s the very fact that these properties are owned by someone (else) that makes it almost certain that they don’t take care of them. The owners don’t want to pay the money and the renters don’t see it as their problem (or are too busy working hard to pay rent – or just spend all evening watching TV).
This disconnect between property owners & people who live in an area is a national disgrace. The UK has been obsessed with BUY to Let but not actually BUILD to Let – and it’s made many areas the worse for it. First university areas but it’s extending its reach. And it means that your neighbourhood will get worse as the weeds grow larger. The only upside is that it might mean that I get to pick more wild strawberries from more gardens.