The trials of balcony gardening

Will Milner is struggling to cultivate anything in his outdoor area

The Knowledge

My arch-rival is a man who lives opposite my building and seems to be taking an interest in my wife’s melons. She only planted them in our balcony garden a couple of months ago, but they’re already starting to blossom. Every night I go out to water them and every night he is waiting for me. Not on my balcony – that would be terrifying – but across the street, working on his own high-rise vegetable patch.

In many ways we are so similar (me and the man, that is – not me and the vegetable patch). We both live in the same neighbourhood, we both enjoy gardening on our balconies and we both have a blue watering can. We’re practically twins.

But a chasm has grown between us far wider than the road that separates our houses. The problem is that we have differing views on what constitutes acceptable balcony etiquette. As far as I am concerned, the balcony is part of my apartment and I would no sooner try to engage strangers in conversation there than I would if they were on their toilet or snuggled up in bed. If you’re not in the same room as somebody and you’re not on a telephone, you shouldn’t be talking to them. End of debate.

He, on the other hand, regards balconies in much the same way as a public park. A common area specifically set aside for public discourse. The moment he steps outside, the performance begins. He normally starts with a wave or a bow, followed by a complex mime – once I saw him do what looked suspiciously like the haka.

Of course, it is impossible to hear anything over the cars below us. Without the use of a megaphone or some rudimentary karaoke equipment, we’ll never know what the other is saying. But, like a demented cuckoo clock, he keeps popping out every few hours. To make matters worse, his garden is much healthier than mine.

Deep down I know he is just being friendly, so I resist the urge to throw tomatoes at him. Once, I even tried hollering to him across the great divide. ‘Hello neighbour. The melons are coming along nicely. What’s that you have over there? looks like cucumbers!’ This discourse was accompanied by hand gestures and a reconciliatory smile, but of course he couldn’t hear a word. To make matters worse, the family above him thought I was having some kind of fit, while the lady one storey down hasn’t dared to come outside since.

I’m becoming a prisoner in my own home. If I go outside, he’ll be out within seconds, and it’s getting awkward. But if I don’t, the garden will wither and die. Do you know what? The sacrifice might be worth it.

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