Gardening expert Diarmuid Gavin: 'Don't let builders leave their mark on your garden'
Don't let builders leave their mark on your garden, take some simple steps to protect your hard work instead
There comes a time that every home has the builders in - and over the past month it's been our turn. For gardeners, builders are often the enemy. Thankfully, we happened on the kindest, most considerate builders who took great care not to disturb family or garden life.
Working at the back of the house, however, they needed pathways, routes to the skip and areas to store rubbish. So we let them at it, and used the front door for our daily comings and goings.
However, their building work coincided with a not inconsiderable event - a visit from legend Gay Byrne. Having grown up as a great admirer of this broadcasting icon, I, of course, wanted everything to look perfect.
We arranged a day off for the builders so that there would be no noise, no mess, no clouds of cement drifting through the verdant garden.
As ever, these things rarely go according to plan.
The rains came, the lawns couldn't be cut and Gaybo entered the property by the back door through a route which resembled the Battle of the Somme - tiptoeing through the muck in his shiny shoes.
Instantly he declared my beloved (but unfinished) garden a disgrace. And he resolved to tell everyone that Diarmuid Gavin's lawn was a mess!
It made me think of how I could have been better organised and I resolved to develop some ideas about successful temporary garden and builder co-habitation.
So, if you are having the builders in and it's necessary for them to use your garden to work in, take some precautions. These simple steps may make the job of reinstating your plot easier:
1 Firstly, talk to them. Let them know you value your outdoor space and ask them to treat it with as much care as they can. Negotiate no-go areas and ask them to fence off agreed spaces. Explain that many of the materials used in normal building processes such as cement, lime, paint and other chemicals can have a devastating effect on plants and agree that they are used with care and consideration.
2 Ask the workforce to lay down boards over the ground to spread the weight of people and machinery and to remove those boards at the end of each day to allow the ground to breathe.
3 Remove vulnerable garden features - statues, bird boxes, pots and containers and children's play equipment - to a cordoned-off area.
4 If you are planning an extension of your home, or even building a structure in your garden, it may be possible to save established trees or shrubs by planning well in advance. The winter before work is due begin, dig a trench 12in to 24in around the specimen that's 6in wide and a spade and a half deep. Bigger species may need a wider and deeper treatment. Fill the trench with soft fresh compost. A year later, a new more compact rootball should have formed, enhancing the success rate for a transplant to another area of the garden (again during the dormant season).
5 The primary complaint regarding damage to gardens resulting from building work is of soil compaction. Construction traffic is hard on lawns and beds. If soil has been compacted it creates difficulties for roots as they seek air and water. Steady foot traffic can turn soil as hard as rock, if you add machinery rolling over the site the resulting problems are multiplied.
Immediate tell-tale signs of compaction are when puddles form on top of the soil and are slow to drain away. To correct this problem, you can take a number of actions, depending on the severity.
Sometimes it may need total soil conditioning - digging down, removal of buried rubble and rubbish, the addition of humus material and addition of fresh topsoil.
For less severe situations, try aeration. You can hire machines which remove small plugs of earth from the lawn (or do this manually with a garden fork), and the resulting holes can be lightly filled with a silver sand loam mix, brushed in lightly to provide a way for air and water to reach the roots.
This week in the garden:
Garden herbs may be getting a little tired. Cut them back now to encourage new fresh growth.
Keep an eye out for clematis wilt which can attack at this time. If you do spot wilting leaves on one of these beautiful climbers (pictured right), or any black markings, cut out the infected bits and get rid of the affected cuttings by burning or in your waste disposal. Never put diseased material on the compost heap.
Aphids are often having a great garden feast in August. And they are clever enough to hide on the underside of leaves. So search for the pests and either rub them off, wash them away or spray.
Raise the blades on your lawnmower as grass growth slows down in the August heat and scalping it too much can put the individual plants under stress.
Turn the compost in your compost heap using a garden fork. It should be 'cooking' away nicely now with all the green waste generated in the garden. Turning will add oxygen which will help to accelerate decomposition.