Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!


The view this morning

No, it’s filthy debris by the bucketload raining down on all you hold dear. No one seemed too offended by my bulb advice, so here’s my advice for when you need a completely new roof (what’s known in the trade as a tear off) or any other major exterior work that will obviously damage your domestic landscape.

I think timing is key. We chose late fall because gardening is completely at an end here. No one is spending any time in the space except to walk in and out of the house. I have seen too many friends and neighbors commit to exterior work in the spring and summer and heard too many of their laments. These guys can work in the winter if they have to, and I don’t feel too sorry for them—not for what we’re paying!

Make sure they use protection (always good advice). Our roofers have clothed the sides of the house where they are working in plywood, which is slanted over the planted areas, so nothing falls into those beds. It’s impossible to protect everything though. I suppose we could have mini-teepees over every shrub.

Finally, I think the main thing is: don’t look! Keep your eyes forward when you walk in and out. It will all be over soon.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. A few years ago we did a renovation that took nearly a year to complete. Roofing (we needed a whole new one) was by far the worst part of it. I think it was late fall/early winter, but it was beyond a mess, even beyond the fact that the roofer decided to bring his dogs to the job.

    I won’t catalog all the damage but my best blueberry bush was decaptitated–all that was left was about two inches of stump. I was heartbroken, especially since I couldn’t remember the variety (I have bought every cultivar I can find and nothing comes close in flavor terms). But slowly, it has grown back and is now 3 or 4 feet high and producing again. Hooray!

    Incidentally, a planting bed along the back of the house was covered with plywood during most of the project, and was graced with an accidental mulch of fresh sawdust while the finish work was going on. Again to my surprise, most of the plants (mostly epimedium) came back.

  2. Ah, another example of the importance of saving plant labels.
    But Eliz, that turquoise tarp like the one in the photo is the focal point of my view across the valley from my deck, now that some leaves have fallen. I don’t understand people not realizing they’re defacing nature for their neighbors when they use tarps permanently covering their wood piles. Then there’s all those ugly fences people inflict on their communities, esp the shiny metal ones.

  3. Having been through numerous remodels, re-roofings and tentings for termites as the paid gardener it is possible to minimize, almost to negligible, the amount of damage construction dudes inflict.

    First prepare the beds and the irrigation system for the type of onslaught, painting, roofing, construction, tenting ect, in the danger zone around the house yourself. Do not rely on the contractors to do it for you.

    Second make an easy access main route for the workers to use even if it runs over your prize petunias and inform them that this is the only acceptable route for them and their mess. Tell the boss they will be held responsible for excess damage outside of the area needed to work and the approved route provided.

    In the case of re-roofing it is often possible for most of the debris to come off the roof in one location by simply picking up the stuff off the roof and carrying it to that spot on the roof where it goes over the side, hopefully right into the raised bed of a dump truck.

    Good preparation can do wonders.

  4. I just finished having my home re-roofed this spring. It wasn’t the messy nightmare you describe. Either this company is exceptionally good, or it’s just the way it’s usually done by roofing contractors in this town (more likely, given what I’ve observed walking around my neighborhood). The contractors take a wheelbarrow or two up on to the roof while removing shingles, shovel the debris (yes, a little falls off the roof, but it’s not much) into the wheelbarrows and run them to a convenient edge of the roof where either a truck or a skip is located. They dump the barrow contents into the waiting receptacle, and repeat as needed. It makes for less work for the crew, because then there’s only a little bit of cleanup and sweeping to do at the end of the job.

    I didn’t have any damage to treasured plants, which is never the case when the “tree guys” come every couple of years. I understand why there’s damage with the tree guys, though–they are removing dead limbs from two 40-foot-plus elms shading a large part of my back garden. Branches are bigger than roof shingles, and it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect the tree guys to cut the branch into little bits 40 feet up.

    But back to the roof–the only kind of bad part was that the new shingles “bled” (or was it shingle dust?), turning the rain runoff a rich coffee color for the first two real rains after the re-roofing. It didn’t stain anything, but I wasn’t about to use that water for anything other than pouring on my less-valuable plants. No pond water, no kittywater, no bird water from those first rains.

  5. Christopher C. has some good advice, for those of us who consider the possibility of damage ahead of time! I did not, during our major house addition and regrading (in the back, no less). Lesson learned, I will never be so naive again.
    After one of my tirades, the mason remarked, “you sure do like your flaers” (my best rendition of his twang). It has been a family joke since. Also, I learned that a mature burkwood viburnum pushed over almost flat WILL recover, with time and gentle treatment!

  6. My problem is that my husband is quite protective of the contractors so I can only go so far. However, they seem to know enough to avoid the shrubs and I’m not worried about the perennials–most have died back or are in the process and will be fine in the spring. As for the pachysandra, I think a good beating is needed.

  7. We love our metal roof, knowing it will not have to be replaced, while we live here anyway. Is that something you see where you live?

  8. We just had our gutters replaced and the company rep promised to run the downspouts “into the garden,” which I thought was a great idea. Free rainwater distribution! Yay!

    Unfortunately the installers weren’t quite tuned in to the fact that “green” means “don’t step on me” so they trampled some things and put ladders on others, broke shrub branches and drove plant markers into the soil by stepping on them as they routed downspout “into the garden.”

    It’s November, and growing season is past, but a lot of my plants are very small and being stepped on a few times can mean The End for seedlings and shrublings.

    We’re still finding gutter clips, aluminum nails, downspout collars, etc. in the mulch and leaves when we rake.

    Looks like we’re going to be putting up with the ticky-tacky blue vinyl siding for a few more years. 🙁

  9. We live in a preservation district so must replace with “in kind” materials–which is fine with me. I don’t see a lot of metal roofs–maybe cause the housing stock around here is pretty old? I’m not sure. I can sure understand the utiliy. I would love a green roof in theory but it would never work for us.

  10. I got both a new roof and a new gutter this spring. The roofers were great, no damage, other than some trampling of the front lawn because they brought a crew of SIXTEEN roofers and got the job done in four hours.

    I wish the gutter installers had been more careful. Broken branches on shrubs, one completely broken clay pot, and all summer I found gutter hanging hardware in the landscape around the house. Oh well, everything has now recovered, other than the clay pot.

  11. So now I know: beware of gutter contractors. I know that we are going to need siding soon, and that’s going to be a plant-trampling enterprise. I think I’ll have that done in late Fall/early Winter/early Spring, because then they can pretty much tramp at will and only clobber the Junipers (the last remnants of the original foundation plantings, retained as a burglar-proof feature full of black widow spiders) and one already rampant out-of-control “ground cover rose” that I never expected to get that large.

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