Gran is defying orders to cut back ‘beloved’ shrubs after council ruled they were dangerous


A grandmother is defying an order to cut down shrubs in her garden after her local council ruled they posed a “health and safety risk”.

Becky Curtis, 84, regularly receives admiring comments from neighbors and passers-by who are impressed by the plants outside her sprawling 18th-century home in the village of Dedham, Essex, Constable Country.

But copious amounts of rain in recent weeks has caused foliage to spill over its 30-inch wall and onto the sidewalk a little more than in previous years.

Green-fingered Mrs. Curtis, who was born in her 18th-century home, insisted there was still a three-foot-wide gap unobstructed of any kind, allowing people to easily walk past it.

But Dedham Parish Council has decided that her oversized balotta, acanthus and choiysa plants pose a potential hazard and urgently need pruning back to clear the footpath in front of her south-facing garden.

Ms Curtis was shocked to receive a letter from the council clerk telling her that “various complaints” had been received about vegetation “encroaching on the pavement”.

Becky Curtis regularly receives admiring comments from people who are amazed by the plants in front of her house


East Anglia Intelligence Service)

The letter asked succinctly: “Could you please cut back the overhanging vegetation so that the sidewalk is not obstructed for pedestrians. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Ms Curtis, who trained as a horticulturalist in the 1950s, is resisting the call with the support of many villagers.

She worries that any large-scale pruning will rob local bumblebees of their annual feast on the pink flowers of her two giant balotta plants when they bloom later in the summer.

Ms Curtis said: “I always prune the balotta back as much as I can without killing it each autumn and I don’t see why I should do it before it has even flowered. We must do what we can to help the bees.

“I was quite surprised when I received the letter saying the Council had received complaints. They didn’t say how many complaints there were. I guess it was just one person.

“I spoke to a lady from the council and she told me that I had to comply as it was a health and safety issue.

A poem in support of the shrubs in Becky Curtis’ garden in Dedham, Essex,


East Anglia Intelligence Service)

“I’ve been told that someone with two children and a stroller and a dog might have trouble overtaking.

“But the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to do it because it’s going to look just awful if I cut it back now, so I’m going to leave it for now.

“I don’t want to do anything unless I’m absolutely forced to. I don’t want to make the village look dreary.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to absolutely supports me and believes the Council is talking nonsense.

“People are not sure if the local council actually has the power to force me to do anything.

“The lady from the municipality told me that there must be room for people with strollers and dogs to pass, but there is still plenty of room on the sidewalk.

Walkers make their way along the sidewalk in front of Becky Curtis’ home, partially blocked by oversized shrubs


East Anglia Intelligence Service)

“I’m a bit stuck because the council will be angry if I don’t do anything, and if I cut it, people will be like, ‘Why did you do that?’ “

Ms Curtis, a widowed mother of two with five grandchildren, was raised in her historic family home in the village of High Street before moving out and then returning some 50 years ago after being married for five years.

She planted her shrubs in her front yard some 30 years ago to complement the gorgeous display of wisteria that has graced the Georgian facade of her home for more than 100 years.

Ms Curtis, a longtime member of the Dedham Horticultural Society, added: “People are always stopping and asking me about the garden and wanting to know the names of the plants. Most people seem to find him very beautiful.

“The plants have always grown over my wall, but they’re only six or seven inches further out on the sidewalk this year because they’ve only gotten bigger with all the rain we’ve had.”

Ms Curtis’ daughter-in-law wrote a poem on a sign in support of her plants and placed it in her garden for it to be read by tourists, who are drawn to Dedham and the surrounding countryside, which features in works by artist John Police officer.

The 84-year-old refuses to cut back the bushes


East Anglia Intelligence Service)

A visitor to the village stuck a napkin with a handwritten message through her door and said: “We passed your beautiful house and enjoyed your front yard. It adds joy and beauty to the road and supports our air quality.”

Ms Curtis’ neighbor Lucy Casey, 45, said: “The plants are beautiful and are not causing any problems at all. Everyone I’ve spoken to thinks the Council is crazy.

“It’s ridiculous that they’re so pushy.

“Some people have complained about the lack of parking for residents who don’t have a driveway. The community didn’t seem to care at all, but they do like to make a fuss over some harmless plants.”

Mary Jones, 63, from Purley, Surrey, who was visiting on the day, said: “It’s a stunning exhibition. The balotta looks beautiful and it would be a shame to destroy it by pruning it back now.

“There is a lot of space on the sidewalk. You could easily come by with a wheelchair or a mobility scooter.”

A message of support written on a napkin and hung through the door of the 84-year-old’s home


East Anglia Intelligence Service)

Dedham Council Secretary Carol Harbach insisted the council was entitled to take action against sidewalk blockages in some cases, but could not comment on what enforcement action might be taken.

The council said in a statement: “We have received a number of complaints from other residents and we do not ask people unless it is a health and safety matter.

“We have a duty as Council to comply with these requests to cut back vegetation where it is overgrown.

“It’s something that impedes the footpath and we have a duty to deal with hedges and keep the footpath safe.”

Becky Curtis’ house, where the plants have been classified as “dangerous” by the authorities


East Anglia Intelligence Service)

Colin Biggins, Chair of the Dedham Horticultural Society, said: “Becky is a tremendous garden enthusiast and conservationist who is one of our long standing members.

“I can see both sides of the argument but we’re terribly risk averse these days and I think the advice is overblown.

“While I can understand the local council’s point of view, she does offer to prune her shrubs once they have flowered and the bees are fed up with the nectar and I think that’s fair enough.

“There are narrow lanes here with no footpaths, which are very overgrown and which deserve the council’s attention much more.”

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