Of Fences, Plants and Unexpected Labors

They say change is a good thing, and I’m mostly a believer in the truth of that. But the more unexpected the change, and the more labor-intensive the result, the more uncertain I am about the goodness of it.

We live in a mid-sized complex of town homes. That means we have a home owners association (HOA) and it has rules and regulations. It also means the Association is required to maintain the common area, which includes the fences between properties. I’ve lived in this place since it was new in 1988 and still had the original wood fence, which had rotted from the bottom up until for the bottom two feet it was a few threads of wood barely hanging together. The neighbor’s dog liked to make excursions into our space to watch the birds at the feeder of just sniff about and make a deposit.

So finally the HOA heard my pleas, and agreed it was time to replace the fence. The neighbor insisted she wanted no “strangers” in her yard, so they said they would do all the work from my side. I talked to the contractor and he was nice and assured my they would be careful of my landscaping, mostly thick ferns, begonias and blue campanula ground cover in a mostly shade border. I dug a few ferns that were near the fence to be courteous. There were areas they could step over and through the rest with little or no damage. I’m sure you can see where this is going…

When the work was done I was called to inspect and sign off. The entire area – the shade border is about 14′ wide x 4′ deep – looked as if there had been a two-day motocross event held there. I was speechless. He said “sorry we had to walk on some of your plantings”. I said “there’s nothing left”.

His answer to that was “Well, they were just some ferns so we figured it wouldn’t matter. They grow right back, right?”

Well, no. In the right conditions some ferns will regenerate in a year – that is come up next Spring and cover by Fall. But I had mostly Maidenhair fern, also Squirrel’s Foot and other more fragile items. Chances of them coming back are slim if any. The fibrous begonias won’t come back at all. They were a total kill, and they aren’t the kind you might find at the local nursery. To replace them, I’ll have to go to a specialty begonia nursery a couple hours drive away, and it will be costly, especially the Bonze King and the Sunswirl.

There was nothing I could do. Ranting wouldn’t bring them back. I’ve sent a letter to the HOA asking for reimbursement for just the plant costs but I am sure they will only laugh as they remind me it’s a look-out-for-yourself world. At best, they will go to the contractor, who will turn it over to their insurance company, who will dispute every detail before deciding that I had in some way “asked for it”. Bah.

So a few days ago I told the wife at least it’s a good chance to completely dig, turn and revitalize the soil. We started that process only to discover the neighbor’s Rubber Plants – planted on her side only inches from the fence – had invaded the happy well-fed area of our shade border. Big time. The largest roots were larger around then my wrist. It took two days to dig the area, removing the roots, even using a power saw to cut though some of them. Then we amended the soil with steer manure and other good things, double turned the soil and readied it for planting.

We’ve put back the half dozen or so plants we dug out (thank goodness) before the massacre, the remainder will have to come from starts from other plants and new ones we buy. In all three full days work so far and an expected plant replacement cost of $200-$300.

I’m sure glad we didn’t have to pay for the new fence. Except for our monthly HOA dues, that is.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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6 Responses to Of Fences, Plants and Unexpected Labors

  1. Art Scott says:

    It’s stories like this that cause me to quiver and procrastinate about any job involving contractors. My sympathies.

    I went through the redwood fence replacement tango a few years ago, in 2 installments involving split-the-cost negotiations with 4 back-fence neighbors. No HOA to deal with, at least. Fortunately, I have big shrubs and mid-size trees bordering the fences, essentially trample-proof, and the job came off without problems. I was lucky.

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    We live in a town house too. There are only six of us though and we have no association. We have our problems with that. One wants to pay for snow removal, others don’t and so on. Roof problems, grass-it’s endless and right now two of the houses are empty. Who rakes their leaves? Me.

  3. Richard says:

    Art – I’m not sure but your negotiations may be more difficult than my replanting.

    Patti – you are a good person for raking those leaves. Otherwise it sounds like it’s no different from a stand-alone, single family house: it’s all your responsibility. You are better off by the $300/month we pay, and our Association doesn’t flex much muscle when it comes to CC&R violations.

    Still, it beats sleeping under a bridge!

  4. Cap'n Bob says:

    Sue. You might get on Judge Judy or People’s Court, or Judge Alex, or Judge Joe Brown, or Judge Hatchett, or whoever else gave up the bench for the footlights.

  5. George Kelley says:

    I’m always wary of “home improvements” for the very reasons and Art provide. It’s opening a Pandora’s Box. Diane and I have been mostly lucky with our various painters and plumbers and contractors. But, we have been burned a few times. Mostly, I can’t stand the chaos and the distruption to my routines.

  6. Richard says:

    But sometimes, George, as in this case, there was no choice. The fence was about to fall down.

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