House renovations can rip up gardens: 8 tips for preventing & dealing with damage

peninsula garden on Parkside Garden Tour
The front yard was torn up when a water line and a sewer line were installed. Pamela Rose turned the problem into an opportunity by creating the bed you see in front, which is a peninsula that curves out from the bed along the porch. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
circular garden bed and street light in Buffalo backyard
Charming street lights were added to the backyard and circular beds were created around several trees in the yard. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Looking at her yard when it was torn up during construction work, Pamela Rose was at first horrified. Then she stopped and thought, “What’s the opportunity here?”

Turning a calamity into an opportunity is one of the tips she shared with gardeners on how to deal with household construction that damages your landscape during the Parkside Garden Tour on Sunday, June 25.

You can also see the property on Open Gardens.

She and her husband Joel have lived in their home on Woodward Avenue for 35 years. They have had more than one occasion to deal with landscape-damaging construction.

Several years ago Rose’s front yard was dug up for work on a water line and a sewer line.

“Well, as long as they’ve got it dug up, I might as well put in another garden bed,” she thought. That’s when she created the peninsula bed, which extends off of the bed along the porch and curves into the lawn.

She was presented with an even bigger opportunity when the couple decided to add a new kitchen– an entire addition including basement– onto the back of the house. Construction work began in March 2016 “and it’s still not done,” Rose said, though it looks great from the outside.

The project took its toll on the landscape.

“A lot of the damage was just from people tramping through the yard because there were so many bodies in the area every day,” Rose said.

There was so much damage to the yard, they called in professional landscapers to help. The landscapers finished last Tuesday, but there is still much to be done to bring the landscape back.

path in backyard in Parkside
When tunnels were dug for the electrical lines for the new lighting in the backyard, it damaged lawn and garden beds. That was an opportunity for Pamela Rose to create a path. At left is an umbrella magnolia, a tree with large leaves that flowers in the spring. Many visitors were surprised to hear that it is a native tree. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Here are tips for gardeners on how to prevent and deal with damage to your yard that occurs during construction.

Fence off the construction zone

Rose set up a temporary fence partway into the yard to allow space to be used as a staging area for the construction crews, but to block off the rest of the yard.

“That prevented a lot of damage to the rest of the yard,” Rose said, and it allowed an area for their two large Bernese mountain dogs to roam.

Fence off gardens

Rose couldn’t weed and maintain the gardens in the backyard during the construction, making it more difficult for non-gardeners to tell a prized plant from a weed. The work crews sometimes ate their lunch in the Roses’ backyard and they would unknowingly set a chair on top of a perennial or otherwise damage plants. So Rose got some expandable green garden fencing to block off garden beds.

Look at the damage as an opportunity

The couple also lost established lawn and garden beds when they decided to add quaint street lights to the backyard. That project required digging tunnels for the electrical lines.

“But here’s the sunny side,” Rose said. “That allowed me to put in a path.”

patio in backyard on Parkside Garden Tour
The patio at the back of the yard was the only area that didn’t suffer damage during the construction. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
carving in dead tree of mountain lion in Buffalo
When the couple lost a huge box elder, they decided to leave the trunk high enough to become a work of art. A mountain lion is carved at the top, representing the couple’s many years of cat rescue and Pamela’s volunteer work at the Buffalo Zoo. There’s a peregrine falcon, like the ones that return each year to the University at Buffalo South Campus, where she works as a medical librarian. The tree also includes carvings of the couple’s favorite pet dog and cat. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Dig up and pot your perennials

Rose dug up some of her perennials and they came through beautifully, she said, but “I should have dug up more stuff.”

Use straw to deal with mud

Your yard could turn into a mud pit during construction, Rose said. Buy bales of straw to keep the mud down, especially if you have dogs. Straw works wonders to cushion foot traffic and limit the amount of mud tracked inside, plus it helps to protect the grass.

Consider renting a storage unit

“I can’t remember how many times I had to pack up and move stuff, then move it again,” Rose said.

Because there was work done on her basement, she had to move items out of the way of construction crews, but the new spot she chose was soon in the way of other work.

Plus she had a new shed built, so all the things from the old shed had to be stored somewhere else.

Since she couldn’t do gardening in the backyard while the construction was going on, “It’s not like I could use those things anyway,” she said. It would have been easier to store many things off site.

Protect your soil

The couple noticed that when soil was dug up and replaced, the good top soil might end up at the bottom of the hole and the clay on top. If you’re doing a small project, you might suggest to the construction crew to try to put the clay back first.

Figure out a way to remember what you have planted

Rose is a member of the Western New York Hosta Society, and was disappointed that half of the labels on her hostas disappeared. Have a back-up plan to remember what’s what in case labels are lost.

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