How does your garden grow?

On concrete slabs and rebar piles, not so well. Halfway through the growing season, we check in with our gardener-from-scratch

“It has been overwhelming and that is exactly what I expected.”

Kingfield resident Alex Bauman, who began converting his wholly paved back yard into a substantial garden in May (see the Home Improvement Guide, May 18), is now the proud owner of a backyard he jokingly describes as a “moonscape.” As of July, the 20’x30’ slab of concrete he hoped would house raised beds of tomatoes and broccoli is instead home to a growing pile of rebar and concrete chunks and a large, sandy hole.

Bauman, who bought his Kingfield duplex last fall, planned to outsource the job of removing the concrete slab, then do the subsequent patio construction, garden design, and planting himself. But finding contractors to tackle the project proved to be a problem. “Not only was it difficult to find a contractor to agree to the job for a reasonable price, but when I did find a contractor they weren’t able to complete the job,” Bauman explained. (He did most of his searching through Craigslist and got estimates between $500 and $1,000.) “They showed up and worked for half an hour, then said they’d come back another day with a different tool. They never showed up again so I was forced to take matters into my own hands.”

That meant renting a jackhammer from the nearby Ace Hardware and enlisting friends to help with the job of wielding sledgehammers and crowbars to pry up the concrete. While using the jackhammer — a new experience for Bauman and his fellow amateur demolitionists — proved relatively easy (“You pretty much just lean on it and let it do the work for you,” says Bauman), 10 hours of steady hammering and sledging was not enough to eliminate the entire concrete pad.  

Additionally, the project hit an unforeseen obstacle: “After removing the concrete we found — drum roll please — another layer of concrete,” says Bauman “So that will possibly alter the species I’ll be able to plant.  I was hoping to put in some larger shrubs, and I may have to scale back a bit. I plan on drilling holes in the second layer for drainage but there is just too much to remove.” Plans now include a second round of jackhammering to complete the removal of the top layer and to assess the layer below.

Fortunately, the obstacles encountered in the backyard have not stopped Bauman from getting some plants in the ground this season. He has appropriated spots on his front lawn for perennials like bishop’s hat and bugleweed, created large pots for plants on his front steps, and even built a rustic trellis as a “comfy home” for the healthy crop of snap peas that edge his driveway.

When the Southwest Journal checks in with Bauman in September he hopes the moonscape will be replaced by something that more closely resembles his original plans. “I hope to have gotten two raised beds built and ready to be planted next year, and hopefully a good start on putting down pavers.” Generally optimistic despite the hurdles he’s encountered, Bauman still heartily endorses the idea of homeowners creating their own gardens by any means necessary. “The advice I would give is, ‘Just do it,’” he says. “This world is in dire need of beauty so whatever effort and expense you put into the job will be well worth it when you’re enjoying the veggies and flowers.”

Monica Wright can be reached at 436-4394 or [email protected]