- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Any day now, Maryland State Highway Administration contractors are coming with chain saws and bulldozers to cut down my trees, level my hill and excavate my back yard.

They promise to give back my land in 39 months, with no trees or plants and no hill but three inches of topsoil and maybe some grass seed or mulch. About a third of it will be designated a perpetual easement, with the back edge a sound-barrier wall.

I am not alone. More than 400 other homeowners are receiving similar treatment, some better, some worse, during construction of the 18.8-mile highway known as the Intercounty Connector (ICC).

Because I have been an enthusiastic gardener for many years, I stand to lose more plants than most. I can’t save the 40-foot trees or my old double-file viburnum, but despite wintry weather, my son Will and I have moved from harm’s way two dozen smaller plants.

This is a challenge for several reasons. One is to achieve a creative garden design given the limited yard space we have remaining to which to move the plants. Even more important is to ensure they survive. After that, it’s a matter of cold, wet physical labor.

Will drew up a wonderful plan, with a fenced-in view garden off the patio, which is just 15 feet from the highway surveyors’ stakes. This will hide the construction from the patio and from the family room’s glass doors, which open onto the patio. For most of the rest of the back yard, we moved six leatherleaf viburnum down from the hill and planted them evenly spaced in a row a few feet inside the line where a construction fence will be built. Throughout the front, back and side yards, we placed three boxwoods and the rest of the plants except for the few we potted.

In the view garden are a small Kousa dogwood of the variety “Venus,” two Prague viburnums, two nandina, a butterfly bush and a hydrangea. We included two boulders from the hill and a pair of metal cranes.

We plan to add a fountain, a climbing rose, a clematis and new perennials to be selected in the spring, but right now, the idea is to save as many plants as we can. We moved the tortoise island with its sarcococca “shell” to a spot where the “turtle” appears to be crawling out from under one of the boxwoods.

Will did all the digging. I invested $6.99 in a concentrate known as Plant Starter (3-10-3 fertilizer), which is a root stimulator, recommended to strengthen the roots when a plant is moved. It promises to “help reduce transplant shock” and “promotes root development and more vigorous plant growth.” Professionals recommend it. I mixed up gallons of it.

This and regular watering are two secrets of success we are using to get the plants off to a good start in their new sites. Unless the ground is frozen hard, you usually can plant into January or even in a summer drought, as long as the new plants get some root stimulator when they go into the ground and lots of water when it doesn’t rain. We were lucky to get as much rain as we did in December, and the snow helped, too. We are continuing to water until the ground freezes.

It helps to prepare the soil before planting and to mulch the new plants generously with shredded hardwood. I bought 50 bags of mulch and 20 bags of a planting mix that includes topsoil, compost and dehydrated cow manure. We used some of the fallen autumn leaves for additional compost.

All this was paid for by the Maryland officials who are building the highway and condemned my property. They agreed to pay me for the loss of my wooded hillside and gardens. They refused to pay for the loss in value to the rest of my property.

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