May 4, 2015

One Potato, Two Potato...

The landscaper didn’t bother to reach down and pick up a handful of dirt to assess its merits.  Not that he could have.  Instead, he just tried unsuccessfully to loosen a clod with his heel.  After three attempts he shook his head.

At our new home all we have
is 'builder's crud' - rock and
more rock
“I see this all the time,” he said.  “Builder’s crud.  There’s nothing you can do with it.”

Fifty feet away from where we were standing was a silent testament to the truth of his statement: a large pile of stones and a few square feet of brownish-gray ground where, a week earlier, I had used our ancient, wheezing rototiller.  Every few feet the rototiller would go ‘clunk’ as it struck more ‘potatoes’, as Rocks Of A Certain Size are known in the parlance of the landscaping industry.  Three hours with my EconoHorse convinced me this was not a do-it-yourself project.

He was not the first landscaper we contacted and he would not be the last.  We spoke with four in all, each one delivering the same message:  we have a very expensive problem on our hands.

The problem is that, at our new home, we want a garden, not a lawn.  If all we wanted was a lawn, ‘builder’s crud’ would be fine as a base.  Just add six inches of top soil and spray on grass seed.  If we wanted a lawn with a few trees, we need only whack a hole through the rocks with a pickax and add a little compost.

Digging a simple foot-deep
trench to lay an electrical
line produced this much rock
When we explained that there would be no grass on the property, the landscapers’ mouths would form a little ‘oh’.  That’s when kicking the ground would begin.

The solution was a variant on this:  dig out the top eighteen inches of crud.  Truck it off or use it to create berms, walls, and other topographical features on the property.  Next, bring in two feet of good, screened loam, plus peat moss, plus compost.  Top it off with mulch. Then, plant anything you want.

How much loam will it take to create this garden?  Let’s do the math:  Let’s say the property has 120 front feet and all but ten feet of that width (the driveway) will be garden.  The house is set back 75 feet from the street.  So, the front garden is 8,250 square feet.  Multiply that by two feet of loam for a requirement of 16,500 cubic feet of loam.  Translate that into cubic yards: 611.

Our garden on Wild Holly
Lane was beautiful, but
required a lot of work
And that’s the front part of the property. There’s also the back and the side, though it is a little less daunting in size.  Does anyone want to venture a guess as to the cost of a cubic yard of screened loam?

As one of the landscapers delicately put it, “the cost of my crew for three or four days will be a minor component of this job.”

So, why are we doing this?  The reason is simple.  Over a period of sixteen years, Betty created a stunningly beautiful garden at our home on Wild Holly Lane.  We opened it for the Garden Conservancy among other charitable organizations, and the Wall Street Journal did a very nice piece on it.  But the garden ultimately became a maintenance burden.  The new garden will retain the beauty of Wild Holly Lane while making low maintenance a key factor in the choice of plant material and overall design.  It will emphasize (though not be limited to) native plants, and will put into practice all of the things that Betty has emphasized in her garden talks and writing.

My job will continue to be to move rocks and dig holes.  The ‘builder’s crud’, I’m leaving to the experts with their heavy machinery.

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