Friday, May 8, 2009

Thank you, Russ Cohen!

We needed a new deck. The old deck was peeling, splintering, sagging and most importantly, pulling itself away from the house. Having just finished a bathroom renovation in the city, we were hyper-aware of everything that could go wrong, and the deck construction made me especially nervous since it involved my precious garden. The only way to dig three new footings was by driving a bobcat straight through two established garden beds.

The night before our construction began I read Jayme Jenkin's post on contractor trauma, which did nothing to assuage my fears. I did everything I could think of to protect the plants (the red laundry basket in the above photo is covering two clematis!), but in the end we were at the mercy of our G.C., Russ Cohen, to whom I am extraordinarily grateful. He listened when I explained how important the garden was to me (I'm pretty sure I didn't threaten bodily harm) and one week after the construction, the garden looks like it was never disturbed.

Here are my suggestions for minimizing garden trauma during construction. Forgive me if some of them seem obvious, but when it comes to your precious garden, you can't be too careful!

1) Choose your contractor wisely. You may have to pay a little more for someone who actually listens to what you're saying, but making your priorities clear is essential. If your contractor is a gardener (or if his/her spouse is a gardener), you've got a head start.

2) Remove everything you can from the garden bed. I didn't want to move two large ornamental grasses (Chasmanthium latifolium) but when our start date was pushed back and the first new sprouts emerged I realized I'd better get them out of harm's way. It's a good thing I did because the garden soil was HIGHLY compacted by machinery and human traffic. I'm sure anything left underground would have been severely compromised.

3) Create a holding area for the plants you remove. I potted up lilacs, rose of Sharon, rhubarb, ornamental grasses, daylilies, irises, asters, mallow, and Phlomis, making them as comfortable as possible. Don't forget to water them during construction; they'll need extra TLC.

4) Protect anything you have to leave behind. I decided to leave three plants in place: a deeply tap-rooted Yucca filamentosa (at right), a wisteria just starting to bud, and two clematis. Clematis takes so long to establish; I knew if I dug them up I'd sacrifice bloom for the next few summers.

4) Go through the prepared garden with your contractor, pointing out spots to look out for.

5) Walk away. We were home for the demolition day but had to leave for NH on digging day; that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We loaded the car as the bobcat began its work and the sight of it maneuvering through my garden was more than my sturdy nervous system could bear.

6) Say thank you! If your contractor did a bad job, if he ignored your requests to take care, let him know in no uncertain terms. And if he did a great job, spread the word. Conscientious contractors are hard to come by. Thank you, Russ Cohen!

Happy Wisteria didn't miss a beat.

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At May 8, 2009 at 12:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great follow up to my nightmare of an experience. The worst part of it? None of the nurseries sell a Winter Daphne large enough to replace my four year-old one. I have to settle for a one-gallon and start over.

I love how your how-to process. I will definitely post!


At May 8, 2009 at 6:38 PM , Blogger SaraGardens said...

What a happy ending to a scary story! And great tips - which I'm sure will save someone a heartbreak. We'll definitely be referring to this when we finally construct our shed.

At May 10, 2009 at 3:04 AM , Anonymous Leda Meredith said...

Very timely post for me--I noticed before I left that one of the steps leading down to my garden is loose and several parts of the railing look ready to collapse any day now. Unfortunately, I'll be at the mercy of whatever contractor my landlord hires, but I'll take your advice to heart as best I can.

At May 10, 2009 at 8:52 AM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Jayme, I'm so sorry about your Daphne. After growing it for so many years and now to have to start over again...

Sara, can you wait till late fall? It's so much easier at the begining or end of the growing season.

Leda, at least we know those hops can survive just about anything!

At May 17, 2009 at 4:59 PM , Blogger molly said...

oh congrats! what a relief!


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