Monday, August 15, 2011

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbo(u)rhood

Gardening is a competitive sport in England.  Despite having a population density of over 12,000 people per square mile -- similar to that of Chicago -- about 60% of London is green space.  From massive royal parks to small private gardens, the majority of the population lives within easy walking distance to a lovely patch of grass surrounded by tidy flower beds.  And anyone who has their own little plot of land devotes a considerable amount of time and effort trying to make it look like a bit of Kew Gardens.

Case in point: my neighbors.  I took the photo below back in May, but you can see that the back yards on either side of ours look considerably nicer.  That's because my neighbors are out there EVERY DAY pulling weeds, pruning shrubs, cutting the grass, planting flowers, applying fertilizer, and watering.  (Yes, even though it rains every 48 hours, they pull out the garden hose every day.)  Despite the fact that no one ever sees their back yards except their immediate neighbors, they could be featured in a gardening magazine.  (My neighbor to the right has since re-seeded the brown patch in her lawn, so it now has the same AstroTurf-like appearance as my neighbor's to the left.)  In fact, most of the gardens we can see from our house look fantastic.
One of these things is not like the others...
Our landlords, on the other hand, did not appear to have a green thumb between them.  I attribute this partly to the fact that neither of them are English, and mostly because they have a toddler son and another baby on the way.  I doubt they had much time or energy to devote to yard maintenance.  Josh and I have somewhat kept their legacy alive by virtue of spending most of our weekends out exploring London, traveling, or hosting visitors.  Josh mows the lawn when it gets too shaggy, but we only give the yard a good going over about once a month -- which is what we did yesterday morning.  I tackled the weeds and hedge in the front while Josh did battle with the lawn and weeds in the back.

Just as I was running out of steam, Josh came out front to declare the back yard done, and my neighbors returned from playing tennis (this is Wimbledon, after all).  Their two kids saw us working out front and decided they wanted to help us, so they changed out of their tennis whites and brought out their hedge clippers and gardening fork.  While their mom worked all alone on her front yard, Chloe (12) and Henry (8) helped me pull weeds, trim the hedge, and sweep up the front walk.  I guess it's more fun to do chores at someone else's house.  After chatting with their mom a bit, she suggested we come over for a barbecue that evening.

This was a big deal for us.  Not only was it the first time someone had invited us over for dinner, but since we don't have a grill, we hadn't had a barbecue since we were in DC over Memorial Day weekend.  Technically, Anna and Kevin are not English (she's from New Zealand and he's from Australia -- and they're both ethnically Chinese), but they've lived here for 18 years and their kids were born here, so they seem like locals.  It's probably too much to hope for an actual born-and-raised English person to invite us over.  The fact that it was a casual, thrown-together-at-the-last-minute affair made it all the better, since that's how we often got together with our friends back home.  After a quick shopping trip, we threw together our favorite barbecue contributions -- teriyaki chicken skewers, fruit salad, brownies, and a pitcher of Pimms.

Since we're right next door and there's a gate between our back yards, Chloe and Henry came over and "helped" us get ready for dinner as well -- mostly by asking us a million questions about stuff in our house and listing which fruits in the fruit salad they liked best.  We eventually put everything together and shooed them back into their own yard, where Anna and Kevin had set up chairs and snacks so we could enjoy the nice weather (70 degrees, partly cloudy) while we cooked everything on the grill.  The first order of business was to test out the self-timer on our cameras for a group photo:
Anna, Chloe, Henry, Kevin, Naina & Josh
We nibbled on olives, bread, and carrot/celery sticks while Kevin grilled sausages, chicken drumsticks, prawn kabobs, and our chicken skewers.  Anna had also made a green salad, so there was no shortage of yummy food.  We ate well, and hung out until it got too chilly to be outside in our summer clothes.  It was a lovely evening, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have such friendly neighbors.

Later we had a Skype session with Josh's brother Ben and our niece Laska, who had just returned from six weeks at Keewaydin canoe camp.  She had been a little anxious about it when she was visiting in June, so we were thrilled to learn that she had a great time and was looking forward to going back next summer.  It was a great way to boost her confidence before she starts high school, which I'm sure she was a little anxious about as well.  After surviving 6 weeks paddling and hauling gear in the wilderness, she can handle anything life throws at her.


  1. Yay for the impromptu barbeque! More than anything you've written before, this makes me feel like London is becoming more home-like to you, and that makes me happy.

  2. BBQ and helpful, kind neighbors! That's an essential part of feeling like 'home'. YES!!!!


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