When Mom and Dad first moved into the house, in addition to absent landscaping, there were no backyard patios or fences between neighbor’s yards. With the help of a family friend, Dad poured the concrete in the backyard and built his own patio. The non-edible plum tree that Dad planted as a sapling next to the patio grew so large that the roots pushed up the concrete; now, every time it rains, the water runs down the sloped patio and pools at the back door. The year of the Big Rain, we had so much water accumulating at the back door that I put down a short wall of newspaper as a makeshift breakwater; the newspaper was soon saturated and the water threatened to seep into the house! Next time, I guess sandbags are in order.
As for the fence, Dad and the original neighbors went in together and bought grape stake fencing, and erected the fence themselves. I remember this well, as being 3 years old at the time, I liked to watch Dad wield the hammer and build the fence. One day, I climbed up and down on the pile of grape stakes waiting to go up, tripped and fell on the wood, and filled one entire knee with splinters that Dad had to remove, painfully, one by one, with a pair of tweezers. Then Dad painted my knee with Mercurochrome.
(A note about Mercurochrome: Every weekend, after cutting, trimming, and otherwise engaging the trees and shrubs with his shears, Dad would come into the house and dress his scratches and wounds with Mercurochrome; it was his badge of honor. After Dad died, I emptied out his medicine cabinet and found an old bottle of the orange liquid still intact after all of these years.)
That old grape stake fence is still up, more or less. On the north side of the yard, the bamboo along both sides of the fence has grown so thick that it holds the fence up. On the south side of the yard, the neighbors got tired of looking at the grape stake, and built a block wall on their side of the property. On our side of the fence, the ivy has grown up around it, and a tree has grown through the fence, holding it up. On the east and longest side of the yard, the one that's shared with the backyard neighbor, the fence is literally falling down. This neighbor had tried repeatedly over the years to get my parents to share the expense of building a block wall; her offer was always met with refusal. “I’ll go in for a new grape stake fence, not a block one,” Dad always said, "I like the look of the wood."
One time years ago, the backyard neighbor sent a letter from a lawyer threatening Mom and Dad with a law suit, claiming that the roots of the three fichus trees that Dad had planted too close to the fence had invaded her yard, and being shallow-rooted, had damaged her concrete patio and swimming pool; additionally, the trees dropped leaves into her pool, damaging her filter. Mom and Dad, via their lawyer, wrote her back, offering to have the damage to her pool and patio repaired at their expense. To my knowledge, the neighbor never had the work done.
Some time after Mom died and I moved back in, this neighbor approached me and again asked about erecting a block wall to replace the grape stake fence; Dad’s response was the same. In the interests of keeping peace with the neighbor, I had the tree-trimmer who comes out once a year survey the trees, their roots, and the fence. He said that putting in a block wall would kill the fichus trees, one way or another. A block wall would require a trench to be dug at the fence line in order for foundation concrete to be poured. Since the trees had grown so large that their trunks are inches from the fence, digging the trench would mean the tree’s roots would be cut off up to their trunks on one side. The shock of this would either cause the trees to die, or if the trees survived, they would be so unstable that a strong wind would topple them over. I told the neighbor that my father would never agree to a block wall knowing that it would kill the trees.
After Dad died, the neighbor again broached the idea of putting in a block wall. I told her that I’d go in for a new wooden fence, maybe a nice redwood one this time, but not a block one. "I like the look of the wood," I said. The neighbor sighed, and walked away.