It may dishearten you to know that it impossible to escape the beady eye of the law even in your own garden. In fact your garden is a veritable haven for legal eagles. Boundaries, weeds, light, neighbours, trees and chemicals and Leylandii trees all have copious statutes and case law relating to them.

So where do you stand if tall hedges or trees are shading your garden? You have the right to cut off any branches that overhang your side of the boundary. You can also prune back roots that invade your property – but be very wary of cutting off roots or branches that could kill off the plant. Whatever you do prune off, you must hand back to your neighbour as the branch or root is not your property! Above all you must be absolutely sure that the tree in question is not subject to a preservation order; so always check with your local council.

How about those delicious looking ripe apples that are clustered on the branch of your neighbour’s apple tree that overhangs into your garden? 

Unfortunately those fruits belong to your neighbour – but only until they naturally fall to the ground; and no –  you can not give the branch a good shake to help them on their way! Once the apples are on the ground in your garden, the law assumes that the fruit has been abandoned and it becomes your property. On the other hand, your neighbour is not responsible for the fallen leaves that drop from his overhanging branches onto your perfect lawn – even if his leaves result in your gutters or drains becoming blocked.

What do you do if your neighbour plants a large specimen tree that blocks the light into your garden? Regrettably you cannot force your neighbours to prune their plants to allow light into your garden. You can only obtain the right for light into a particular window of your house or into a structure such as a conservatory. If a structure rather than a plant is blocking light, and if you have had light into your garden for 20 years or more, then you are entitled to expect a reasonable amount of light in the future. 

If any of your trees cause damage to other people’s property, plants or even people, you are responsible. It is worthwhile not only checking that you are covered by your insurance policy but also keeping an eye on overhanging branches or large tree roots that could damage house foundations or lift paving.

A neighbour’s bonfire can spoil a glorious day out in your garden. Unfortunately there is little you can do about it.  In order for bonfires to amount to nuisance, you must prove that they regularly interfere with your enjoyment of your property. They must also be burning and creating smoke much more frequently that an ordinary person would consider to be reasonable. If your neighbour lights a bonfire every time you hang out your washing or sit in your garden you could try complaining to the local Environment Health Department.

However beautifully kept your garden is, if your neighbour’s garden looks like a neglected junk-yard this is undoubtedly going to detract from the enjoyment of your own property. Unfortunately there is no law that states that people must keep their garden neat and tidy.  The best course of action is a friendly request or perhaps an offer of assistance. However if your neighbour’s rubbish is a health risk you can approach your local Environmental Health Department. Alternatively, if there is a general consensus of opinion within your neighbourhood that the rubbish is an eyesore, try approaching the Planning Department.

The Weeds Act of 1959 lists certain weeds that are considered to be “injurious”. The legal occupier of the land is responsible for controlling them. These include Spear thistle, Creeping of field thistle, Curled dock, Broad-leaved dock and Ragwort. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods can serve a written notice on the owner of the land to ensure that they prevent the weeds from spreading. Failure to comply could result in a large fine.  And just in case you were contemplating adding Japanese knotweed and Giant hogweed to the plants in your garden, it is an offence to plant them!

Regrettably it will be difficult to prevent your neighbour’s weeds from spreading. Rather than falling out, you are best advised to make your garden as weed-resistant as possible by creating a boundary, using chipped bark or resorting to weed-killers.

So let’s step out of your garden and take a walk into the depths of the countryside. Imagine you are wandering through woodland on a public right of way and you see a cluster of tiny saplings that have clearly self-rooted. Do not be tempted!  The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it is an offence to gather (especially by uprooting) material from the wild. However you can collect seed which has fallen to the earth, so long as the plant from which the seed has fallen was not planted as a commercial enterprise. 

Alas the garden and the law is really too big a topic for the scope of this short article. So just a final word of caution.  If you have any queries your best first step is to contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Wherever possible, attempt to settle disputes with your neighbours harmoniously.  Approaching the local council for help will be a lengthy and tedious process, the result of which is more likely to turn your hair grey than your neighbours!  Using a solicitor is expensive and even if you use the law to successfully settle any dispute, the emotional bitterness between your neighbours and yourself will be even further increased.  Frankly it probably just isn’t worth the emotional and financial trauma.