December 1, 2014

The Fine Art of Moving a Garden

Moving furniture from one house to another is a snap.  You call a moving company, you sign a check, and experts do the rest.  On the appointed time and day, your furniture shows up at your new home.

Moving plants is a little more difficult.  To be completely accurate it is a lot more difficult.

The house - and garden - we will be
leaving behind.  Beautiful, but too
large for two people.
Last July I wrote of our plans to downsize; to leave the beautiful house we have called home for fifteen years in favor of a smaller abode in which we can (attention euphemism police!) ‘age in place gracefully’.  But this would be no ordinary home.  Its garden would be front and center in the planning process.

Our new home... maybe this month?
The house is now rising quite nicely on an acre and a half of land.  We optimistically think we’ll have an occupancy permit some time in December.  Our current home is on the market and we are equally optimistic that the right buyer will walk through the door any day now.

In preparation for our move we spent more than a hundred hours this autumn digging up and dividing plants – in addition to the hours Betty spent during the spring and summer doing exactly the same thing.  More than a hundred hosta divisions went into one- and two-gallon pots as did numerous Siberian iris.  Plugs of ginger and ground covers found their way into quart-size pots.

We have been dividing plants for the
past year.  Then the pace stepped up.
When we ran out of things to put plants in, we put out a plea to gardening friends who responded with an avalanche of pots – some of them gigantic.  Cuttings Betty made in the spring of climbing hydrangea had, by early October, formed strong root systems.  We now have an entire tub of climbing hydrangea, ready to cling to our new porch.  The largest containers became the home for grasses, peonies, epimedium and astilbe, all of which had migrated from their original planting sites and needed to be culled in order to restore order to the garden. 

By mid-October our portable garden – with pots spread out to allow leaves to soak up sun and water – had outgrown the fifteen-foot-by-forty-foot transplant bed and was spilling out into the walkways beyond.  We went to our neighbors and asked if they could take in the overflow.  When they agreed the potting continued. 

In the meantime, Betty created a dual tracking system for the plants.  Each pot bears a small wooden stick on which is written the name of the plant.  It also gets a second stick with nothing but a number on it.  In Betty’s computer is a growing list of what numbers correspond to which cultivars of plants.

The overflowing trench for the plants
that will be a small part of the
new garden.
In late November we began transporting our plants to their new home.  A Bobcat was being used to fill the trench created to bring in our water and sewer.  I cajoled its driver into carving out an eighteen-inch-deep hole ten feet wide and thirty feet long.  Four truckloads of plants later – and even pushing round pots so tightly they became squares – I had to hand-dig a second plant repository.

Next came the loads of leaf mold and pine needles.  This is to provide additional insulation against the winter wind and temperatures.  Then came soil to fill in any holes between pots.  Then more leaves. 

You should keep in mind that, while we’re lavishing this attention on our plants, we have not yet chosen colors for rooms in the actual house.

With the ground now beginning to freeze, the garden work at our current home is done.  We realize we are doing its next owners a huge favor:  for at least a year, there will be little need to do anything beyond routine garden maintenance.  Perennials will have room to stretch out their roots.  Shrubs will find less competition for light and nutrients.

For the past two months, the soil
around our new home has been
contacted into lifelessness.
Conversely, the work at our new home is just beginning.  All those plants now in their protective trenches need to find permanent homes come March or April.  The top two feet of our homesite’s soil has been compacted into an oxygen-free brick by a succession of cranes, trucks and bulldozers.  It will need to be coaxed back into life through aeration and augmentation. 

And, of course, the contents of those trenches are just a small fraction of what will be needed to fill a new garden.  Come the spring of 2015, the real work begins.

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