Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hide your trees, hide your azalea bushes….

…cause vigilante gardeners are out assaulting shrubbery.

I wish I were kidding.

In early March, our next-door neighbors put their house on the market. Their house has one of the nicest exteriors in the neighborhood, while ours…well…hadn’t been improved in probably 20 years. So the homeowners’ association came down on my landlord and forced him to make a number of improvements to the exterior of our townhouse. Yard maintenance happens to be our responsibility, so we had to give the tiny flowerbed in front of our house a grooming. We were fine with that, because we felt kind of bad for our neighbors at that point.

Stupidly, we decided to do tidy up the front yard on the same Sunday that the neighbors were having an open house. At the time, I hadn’t realized that an open house is really an invitation for all the longtime owners in the neighborhood to come check out your house without a personal invitation. Before we knew it, every old man in the neighborhood was telling us what to do.

We knew they were trying to be helpful, but it still felt patronizing. They didn’t listen to us, and they wouldn’t leave us alone. Instead of actually working on the house, we had to stand there and tell them that we knew what we were doing. We also got weird questions from some of the older neighbors like, “Are you all school teachers?” Um, what?

They did give us one good piece of advice: wait to trim back the azalea bush until after it blooms, but right before the blooms are totally gone. Otherwise, you kill the bloom. So we “boxed out” the holly bush and left the azalea, which was about two feet taller than the holly, for later in the season.

I had a lot of fun with the hedge clippers. Total immediate gratification.

While we were out working, the head of the HOA, who appears to be the male version of an old cat lady, offered to plant some liriope around the base of the flowerbed. “Sure,” we said. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?

Fast-forward almost two months.  Workers had come and fixed up the house, and almost every day that they were there the HOA man was out in front of our house asking them what our LL instructed them to do, and telling them what they should do. We were getting really sick of coming home to find that the neighborhood was in front of our house evaluating the improvements. It was all we could do to smile and say hello instead of telling them to bug off and return to their own homes.

Then one day last week I was sick and working from home. I looked out my upstairs window and found an old man in my yard with a wheelbarrow, cutting up pieces of….what’s that he’s cutting up? Is that our azalea bush?

Yes, he was cutting up our azalea bush. Upon further investigation, I realized that the azalea bush was pretty much gone, leaving only a pile of dismembered flowers in our front yard.

This is the point where I should’ve gone outside and said, “um, hey, whatcha doin there man?” But instead I stood at my window, jaw dropped, furiously texting my roommates. I chose this route because 1) I had no idea what to say; and 2) I wanted this butcher to clean up his mess before I got mad and made him run out of our yard crying.

At first I assumed it was the nosey head of our HOA, but when my roommate got home and talked to this gentleman, she found that it was someone else in the neighborhood who we don’t even happen to know. How fun. When my roommate filled in for me and said, “uh hey, what are you doing?” He simply told her, “Oh I’m just cutting back this azalea.”

“We were going to do that this weekend,” roomie told him.

“That’s why I did it today. The blooms are 80% gone. It hasn’t been cut in 15 years.”

“Yes, but we were going to shape it up.”

We had a strong suspicion that HOA cat man/king of the neighborhood—note, not the HOA—was involved. But we didn’t even know who this other dude was, so I decided to unleash the fury of our angry old man landlord. I emailed him detailing the situation, and sent him pictures of the azalea assault. He called me immediately and wanted to know who this “bush cutter” (his words, not mine) was, and then proceeded to call/send a nasty email to the head of the HOA. But instead of just drafting his own email, he forwarded the email I sent him and added an angry little note.

Oops! It was a mini moment of panic followed by deep satisfaction that annoying HOA cat man now knows exactly how I feel about him, and that I don’t take shiznit from my neighbors whether I’m a renter or not. Here's a portion of my email:

"Needless to say, we're very annoyed. We know that [HOA cat man] and his friends are trying to be helpful, but we're sick of being treated by the HOA as helpless female renters who don't know how to care for a home. We're also sick of coming home and finding that the neighborhood feels that caring for this house is a communal effort. We know that if we were homeowners, no one would be taking it upon themselves to make modifications to our yard."

A little while later our doorbell rang. Two of my roommates let out a shriek, “It’s him!” and went to hide in the kitchen. I went to the door, ready to throw down.

He explained to me that they were “just trying to help” and that they were going to tell us about their “plans” that night. I told him quite firmly that they are not to make plans for our yard. Period. I also took him around front and showed him just how freaking ridiculous our yard looks now. I mean really. Why did we even do all that other work? Our house looks wayyyyy worse than it did before. He apologized, but I still don’t think he thinks he and his buddy did anything wrong.

Unfortunately we’re not going to get a new azalea. It’s a good thing our neighbors sold their house. We’re thinking about putting up a sign that says, “we did not do this” since people are now giving our house dirty looks. But seriously, wouldn’t you if you lived near us?

I guess on the positive side, there’s now plenty of room for lawn ornaments. Lucky for our HOA friend, whimsical garden accessories are all over Target right now. And we found that pink flamingos are very affordable. 


  1. Well done, Sarah. Don't let those know it all men boss you around. He's lucky you didn't call the police - I hate men like that.
    Love your blog !

  2. That is insane! I cannot stand HOA's and the people who feel empowered because they are a part of them. I'm so sorry about your azalea. :( Megan

  3. Crazy! I was actually at your neighbor's open house that day! My husband and I seriously considered putting an offer on that townhouse. Hearing all of the drama with your HOA I'm so glad we didn't. It would have been fun to be your neighbor though!

    1. Wow, what a small world! They actually moved out yesterday so we're interested to see who our new neighbors are. I think that this overbearing old man is really a bigger problem than the HOA. Good luck house hunting!


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