| 11.2°C Dublin

'Let there be light, not Hulk hedges'

HULKING great hedges have their place. They really do. Their place is in a garden of one acre or more. Not in suburbia. Not surrounding the average front or back yard.

Because, if you look at the average front or back garden, small is the word that comes to mind.

But those small gardens are infinitely precious to thousands of people. They're where the baby gets put in its little mesh play pen to soak up a little sunshine. They're where the toddlers get to explore nature -- my son, when he was two, spent most of his time in the back garden washing worms. He was bothered that they got themselves so dirty. A bowl of water and mild sunshine and he was happy for several hours.

Gardens are for growing flowers and herbs and vegetables, and for all the pottering about that leads the gardener to sit down on the deck and admire their handiwork.

They're a personal oasis of light and peace. Assuming some privacy-obsessed neighbour hooked on Leylandii doesn't grow that hedge to twice the height of a human, thus cutting off the available light, so the sunshine only sneaks into the garden at high noon.

After that, it's steadily-encroaching shadow, because that hedge grows like it's on steroids. I figure it was named after Leyland's double-decker buses, because it's just as ugly and nearly as tall.

Light is a basic human entitlement, and when it's taken away, the signs of deprivation are immediate. That's why recalcitrant prisoners used to be first deprived of exercise in the open air, and -- if they kept up their bad behaviour -- confined in a cell with no natural light.

We have building regulations to prevent developers from erecting huge edifices that overshadow the homes and gardens of neighbours. But we have a serious shortage of regulations to prevent neighbours from growing the equivalent: a great threatening mountain range of ugly hedge.

Nobody's suggesting hedge-growers set out to steal anybody's light. They don't. I suspect that most people who plant the Leylandii monster have no idea it's The Incredible Hedge Hulk and can grow three feet in one year. Great, the first year. Super, the second year. The third year is the one where the homeowner, respecting their neighbours as good homeowners do, gets out their shears and cuts the thing down.

The problem is that too many homeowners surrender and say, 'to hell with the neighbours'. Their flowers can wilt, their vegetables can die, their children can wear cardigans.

Never mind that this particular hedge slurps up moisture at a time when most gardens are running out of water. The issue is one of light deprivation. And the solution is simple and harmless: require the grower to keep the Hulk at the height of a very tall man.

That way, the owner can have as much privacy as they want, while their next-door-neighbour's right to light is vindicated.