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Garden Hydrology Upgrade Project, 2018

Edited Oral History Interview with members of the 2018 Garden Hydrology Upgrade Project: Alan Dirican (July 2, 2018), Jonathan Kavalier (July 3, 2018), Gail Griffin (July 24, 2018), Kimberly Frietze (July 2018); and Marc Vedder (July 2018), conducted by Bailey Trela. At Dumbarton Oaks, Alan Dirican has served as Director of Facilities since 2013; Jonathan Kavalier has served as Director of Gardens and Grounds since 2018; Gail Griffin was the Director of Gardens and Grounds between 1997 and 2018; Kim Frietze has served as a Garden Administrative Assistant and Gardener since 2016; and Marc Vedder has served as Gardener since 2000 and as Integrated Pest Management Specialist since 2006.

Alan Dirican

BT: First off, when did it become apparent that a large-scale project, involving a shutdown of the gardens, was going to be necessary?

AD: It might be useful to give you some background information on this. When I arrived five years ago, there were smaller projects on the docket to address some of the ongoing problems in the garden – some of the water boxes were leaking, and there were storm water management issues and run-off issues, because our property is higher up than the park. Looking at the overall picture, it made more sense to combine all of these projects to get the economies of scale, as well as condense and reduce the general conditions and planning activities. To that end, we did a feasibility study and then after that we developed a master plan to understand not only the infrastructure of the garden – the water lines and storm systems – but their condition as well. So, we sent cameras into some of the pipes, we did some tests, because the idea was – we wanted to identify whether we could save the old lines, by relining them or through other method, rather than running completely new lines. But it turned out that they’d lost about sixty percent of their capacity, so the six-inch lines were in places only three inches, because there was a lot of tuberculation and corrosion, which affected the condition of the pipes. In some cases, they were like eighty or ninety years old, and they were cast iron ductile pipes, which are prone to that.

The other issue for us was, while the project was going on, you can’t not have water in the garden. That would make it hard to maintain the garden and the health of the plants, so we decided, based on that need, to run new lines and keep the water active in the old lines, and then at the end of the project switch the system over. We also looked at the fountains and storm water areas and added some storm drains where they were necessary and repaired some areas. The original idea was to do the renovation in sections, but once the design was done we realized how involved it was going to be, and that the project was going to be prolonged, and at that point, after having discussions, we decided to bite the bullet, close the gardens, and lessen the pain, and do everything in one shot and open it up at one date.

We started the project in the summer, but a lot of the work started at the beginning of the winter, and then we were back open on March 15. Originally, we anticipated opening back up in the fall, around December, I think, but we had unusual weather that slowed things down – it was so wet and rainy, and then there was snow, and the ground froze, so all of that affected the duration of the project, because it was a lot of work to do, and you couldn’t do it when the ground was frozen. So, just to give you the scope of the project, and why we decided to close the gardens, we installed about 3,600 linear feet of four-inch pipe, and about 5,000 linear feet of one-inch pipe, about 2,000 linear feet of two-inch pipe going into various isolation valves. We replaced, all in all, maybe two hundred different valves, so we have a better control of the new water system, and better isolation. There’s a new tie-in to the city street, so the irrigation is completely separated and has its own meter, which will make it easier for the gardeners, and along with that we restored five or six major fountains.

BT: I was wondering about some of the big problems you faced over the course of the project, whether that’s particular fountains or rooms that were challenging, or the weather you mentioned, or any other factors.

AD: So, the Ellipse Fountain always had a problem. I was told it was leaking water through the basin – it has two sections, as you know – and we also wanted to replace the outdated piping and the equipment related to that fountain. One thing we wanted to address as part of this project was sustainability and conservation. All our fountains had water coming in and water going out, there was no recirculation, with the exception of one or two little fountains that had a little pump that they added water with. The Ellipse Fountain is one of the biggest fountains we have, so we wanted to make sure we were recirculating the water there properly. We added an auto control feature, because it was all manual before.

We also wanted to address the water that was leaking out of the fountain – it’s like a swimming pool, you have to have a proper lining – but once we started to get into the project, we found there was very little documentation of the existing drawings for the fountain. When we removed those flagstones at the bottom of the fountain, it turned out the drawings weren’t correct – it was all over the place, it wasn’t level at all. The situation was kind of like, the more we opened it up, the more we had to fix. We ended up completely rebuilding the outer shell, staying true to the historic fabric of the fountain, and we reused almost all of the stone – they had to number them and identify them to make sure they were going back where they needed to be. Then we ran new lines for drain lines and supply lines, and they put an auto refill feature in the fountain. We used a specialized company for that, Fountain Craft.

So, that was one of the challenges, it took longer than we thought. But it’s like any other project – until you get into it, you won’t know what you need to do. It’s not something like a building, where you can cut a wall and find out what’s behind it. You have to take the stones off to find out what’s underneath. And so, we had to adapt to the challenges and move forward based on what we were finding.

BT: I’d noticed in the general timeline there was a long period where work was being done on the Ellipse Fountain, around three months. You said it was a particularly wet winter. Did that impact the project?

AD: There was a lot of rain, and a lot of mud, so much so that the excavators couldn’t really work when the ground was that saturated – they couldn’t open holes that were four or five feet deep, and then watch as they became swimming pools. Generally, the water’s going to accumulate and make everything harder. A big part of the project was to make sure there were storm water management controls for the run-offs, because as you disturb the grounds, you create a lot of muddy water, and you don’t want that to go to the streets or other adjacent properties. So, the workers had to always cover what they’d just opened at the end of the day to be careful. Continuous rains delayed the project, and we had a really harsh winter where the ground was frozen for about two weeks during December and January.

BT: You mentioned the difficulty of getting machinery into the garden. Tell me about the process of directional drilling under the Beech Terrace.

AD: Probably the biggest challenge for this project was to avoid the garden’s major trees and their root systems, so we had a specialized company on the team to go and do air spading. If you’re familiar with that, they use a nozzle with holes in it, and then they blow the soil away from the roots to expose the roots, and then at that point you can either lift the root or cut it. It’s focusing on areas where you can minimize the damage, and then they work around that. But there were certain areas that we couldn’t really dig up, either there were major walls there, or major trees that we couldn’t interfere with, so they used directional boring, which they can do in a curved fashion. They did that from the Front Lawn to the back of the Orangery. It was a pretty painless process – they dug two holes in one area, and then this thing kind of pushed itself through. And then you can just pull the PVC pipe through after that.

BT: So, the machine was placed on the Front Lawn?

AD: Yea, the machine was placed on the front lawn, because we couldn’t get a machine on the north side of the Orangery, and there’s a major tree on the east side of the Orangery. The topography changes drastically – you have the pool loggia. So, we needed to get to that part of the garden.

BT: You mentioned tree damage being one of our big concerns. Were there particularly sensitive regions of the garden – Melisande’s Allée, for instance?

AD: I’m trying to think about the locations and what the issues were. I don’t think we lost any major tree over the course of the project. At times they got too close to the roots and they had to stop and find an alternate location, or call in the air spading guys. And we had a tree expert come in on a weekly basis and walk through the garden, and look at the drawings showing where the line was going to go and see if it was going to be too close. Sometimes you just don’t know where the roots are. You go with the rule of thumb, three times the size of the diameters of the tree, or where the leaf diameter is, but then sometimes, if a tree’s roots are blocked in one direction – if there’s a wall, for instance – they’ll extend really far in the other direction. So as conditions presented themselves, we had to stop and call the tree expert, or the architect, or in this case the engineer and the contractor, and walk through and say, “Is there an alternate path we can take? How can we address this?”

BT: What did it take to make Lovers’ Lane Pool recirculating?

AD: We had to put a new put system – there’s a little parapet wall right by the bench there, which you’ll see now, where it’s contained – and we had to change the exterior piping around the fountain. The fountain itself didn’t require a lot of restoration, because the stone was in good shape and we weren’t losing any water. But the piping system was completely changed. There’s new piping in and out, and now the water level is automatically adjusted, and it circulates now.

BT: How did a concern for historical preservation manifest in the process of the renovation – you talked about being careful with the stones from the Ellipse Fountain, for instance.

AD: Considering how invasive this project was, and how much work we did underground in a historic garden, I’m pretty pleased with the end results. Here and there you’re going to have to tweak it at the end, and get the kinks out. Once you start operating again, you really have to go through four seasons to understand how everything is now functioning. We went through spring and we’re in the middle of summer, and now we’ll see how the garden performs in fall and winter. All of those seasonal changes bring different sets of challenges and conditions that might cause different reactions, so you have to address things as they go along.

We had a minor leak on Cherry Hill today, and that’s why we closed the pool, because that water supply also supplies the pool, and we think it might be coming from there. So, those kinds of things have come up – there was a major break in a pipe when they brought in a crane to remove an oak tree. That was unrelated to this project, but we had a huge crane that came in on site to remove a tree right in the corner of the Orangery. The weight of the crane crushed one of the new lines, so it began to flood and we had to stop and address that and dig it up. It turned out to not be a major deal once we’d isolated where the water was coming in. And again, we’ve had so much rain this summer that when we see a leak from an old line, we need to be able to isolate it and say, “Okay, this is the ground saturation going into the old line because of a crack or corrosion or a valve leaking somewhere.” You have to be able to methodically isolate things like that.

BT: What factors did you consider when planning the new loop system?

AD: In general, we wanted to follow the path of the old pipe, and if there was a tree in the path or permanent fixtures, then we just went around that, because with water pipes you can go any direction you want. Pressure’s not an issue in general, the water will get there. We also determined early in the project that six-inch line wasn’t necessary, and that four-inch would give sufficient water pressure for the whole garden, so that was cost-saving. In general, we went parallel to the old system. The old Director of Gardens, Gail, determined where the water boxes should be, and in general that was close to the old water boxes. Here and there though they needed more boxes, and we added them.

One big component was that they wanted to replace the water boxes with something called quick coupling, which is like a spring-loaded system where you hook the hose connection directly to that, as opposed to old valve systems, some of which are three feet deep to prevent freezing during the winter and require special keys. We installed a lot of isolation valves as well, so if something happens to one of the boxes we don’t have to shut down the entire garden, we can just isolate it in sections. So, that was a big part of the project.

BT: Were there any tensions between making the garden more sustainable and preserving its design? Any instances where we peeled back from making something more sustainable?

AD: There was one area that we didn’t fully renovate. Prior to this project, we did the pool restoration, and as part of the pool restoration – because the pool has its own pump systems and all of that – the Grotto Fountain, right by the pool, had a provision added to tie it into the pool system. So, we brought the pipes there and we left it capped with the idea that when we do the storm water project and the fountains, we would tie it into the pool system. Then there was a debate back and forth over whether we should do that, and whether the chlorine in the water would be harmful to the limestone. Eventually we decided not to do it, so that fountain is still non-circulating. But the provision is there, at some point we could always add it to the system. So, I gave up on that one, I said, “If you give me recirculation on all the other fountains, this one I’ll give you.”

BT: Is there any way of quantifying the benefits of the project?

AD: That will happen at the end of the year probably. Because we had a separate meter for the irrigation, we’ll be able to compare it. Of course, the weather plays a factor in all of those measurements – you’re going to have to make allowances here and there for what was caused by evaporation, to see what the real water consumptions was. The Ellipse Fountain was losing thousands of gallons of water. And because they weren’t automated, the fountains were running twenty-four seven. Now they have timers, and they just run from seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night. So, there are electricity savings as well as water savings.

Jonathan Kavalier

BT: I wanted to ask a few questions about your general understanding of the renovation. What were some of the big problems that arose over the course of the project?

JK: That’s hard for me to answer because I wasn’t here, but just from talking to the gardeners I know the weather didn’t cooperate as well as it could have. They had some hard freezing weather through the winter that prevented the contractors from doing the work as quickly as they’d hoped, which led to delays in finishing up in the spring. So, that was one thing. Another challenge was that the whole garden was closed to everyone, so no D.O. staff could go into the garden. I think the gardeners were allowed to go in but in limited places, and I think that was challenging for them, because there’s maintenance that has to be done in that garden, and they were seeing things go downhill from a maintenance perspective and weren’t really able to do much about it. I’m sure that was frustrating and challenging for the gardeners, and so this spring there’s been a real push to reclaim and get back up to par some of the things that had been let go.

Another challenge was at one point they cut the water to the greenhouse, because they had to reroute a pipe. I don’t know the details, but they were basically at the mercy of the city to do some sort of inspection before they could reconnect the water and move on, and so what was supposed to be only a week of water outage in the greenhouse ended up being, I think, six weeks. That was a real challenge, because it was actually at a time of the year when Melissa and the greenhouse should be starting seeds for the vegetable garden and flower seeds for the flower beds, so she was delayed in doing that. It was just difficult to water the greenhouse, too. She was able to do it – she had to pull several hoses from the refectory across the way – but without the mist and automatic misting she didn’t want to start the seeds. So, those were a couple of challenges.

BT: This would probably be secondhand knowledge for you as well, but what were some of the unknowns going into the renovation of the Ellipse Fountain?

JK: I don’t know a lot about that – Kim could fill you in more – but what I can say is that in general there were a lot of unknowns, because the drawings that we had were often flawed. When you have a hundred-year-old garden, changes have been made over time and some of those changes were not well documented. One example of that is, they had no idea where the pool was being fed from. They thought there was water supply line from the house that was feeding the pool, but Gail had a feeling – I don’t know what it was based on – that it wasn’t being fed from the house. Sure enough, they discovered that the line coming in from 32nd Street into the Bowling Green, which was thought just to supply the Refectory and the Copse and some other areas, was also feeding the pool. And that line was going to be completely cut and abandoned, so they weren’t able to do that. I may have some of the details wrong, but I know that that was a big discovery.

There were also a lot of cases where we were searching for a valve here or there, because it didn’t show up on a drawing but we’d determined that there must be a closed valve somewhere. There was a lot of detective work in finding valves. My understanding of the Ellipse Fountain is that when they started excavating they weren’t sure what a lot of the substructure was like. The fountain was already engineered and designed to recirculate, but it wasn’t holding water, so the goal was to demolish the basin and rebuild it. I think in the demo process they realized how thick and big the wall for the pool basin was, and they also found remnants in that lawn area of work that had been done in the past – they basically discovered archaeological remains of the several iterations that area’s been through. There were other fountains that were part of the space in the past that were demoed, and they found some of the infrastructure for that. They found some old tiles down on Cherry Hill when they were excavating there as well. There was a hospital on site, I think about where the library is now, or somewhere around there. I think it was called the Home for Incurables, and I think that’s where those tiles came from. Generally, I think a lot of the debris from that hospital was used as fill in the garden.

BT: What was the process of onboarding like for you?

JK: For me? Well, it was a little bit of a trial by fire. I managed to carve out a week of overlap with Gail, but that’s really all we had. I’d hoped for a little bit more overlap, but I’m in a fellowship program that was meeting for a couple of days in what would have been my second week of overlap, so that didn’t work out. We only had a week and Gail had been here for twenty-one years, so there was a lot to cover in that one week. I kept telling people that it felt like we spent a month together every day, because we were just going over so much – all of the finances, all the personnel stuff, and some of the systems she had in place for tracking the budget and things like that. The good thing is that she’s still around, and I’ve met with her several times since she left. One day we walked around the garden and she basically gave me a garden tour so that I could learn some of her talking points and anecdotes. One day we spent some time up here in the office going over some budget stuff. Generally, if I have any question I can pick up the phone and call her. I had some questions about some historic objects in the garden, like the Terrior Column, which got damaged in a snowstorm right after I started. So, just when I was tracking down drawings and things like that, she was very helpful. I actually need to call her and get together for lunch or something, because we’ve been trying to get together every once in while in the garden, just to continue having the conversation.

So, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of onboarding. I think just working with the staff and seeing how things work has been really eye opening and helpful in terms of getting a good handle on the day-to-day operations. I should also say that in preparation for her retirement a lot of work was done. Kim was actually hired as a temporary administrative assistant in order to help with that, because Gail basically had twenty-one years’ worth of files that needed to be reorganized in a way that was a little more accessible for me, or whoever the next person would have been.

One thing that Kim did with Gail over about a year was take all of Gail’s files and put them in binders organized by garden space, so now all of the documentation – whether it’s drawings, garden object inventory notes, planting designs, purchase orders, things like that – they’re all more readily accessible. For example, if you want to learn more about the Rose Garden, everything’s in this specific binder, going back pretty far. The Rose Garden actually died in the nineties and got completely redone, and I have all of the letters and the communication for that effort, and the plant lists and designs from the nineties. I’m actually going through that now, because the Rose Garden’s not looking as good as I’d like it to look. I think a lot of that’s just the weather for the spring – we had a lot of rain that prevented us from spraying, and we’re seeing a lot of fungal blight right now. But before I go and make any changes, I want to make sure I understand the history of the space, so it’s nice that everything for the Rose Garden is in that one binder.

In addition to that, Gail kept really good financial records, so all of the invoices and bills and things like that for all of the vendors are there. If I want to look up what roses we purchased in the past, as long as I know which vendor we purchased them from, I can go and find all of that information. It’s actually all on the computer on her personal drive, which on her last day transferred to me, which is great. She also kept a really, really good, in-depth spreadsheet for the budget with all the expenditures by object code – the object codes are the different pots of money, basically – so I have a great understanding of what we spent on tree maintenance, for instance. So, that’s been really helpful.

BT: For the onboarding of the actual project, which was finishing up just as you were coming on, was that just meeting with people like Gail and Alan?

JK: It was a couple of meetings with Gail, and then she brought together the project team. One thing I forgot to mention she did during that one week of overlap was that she tried to set up meetings with as many of the contractors that we typically use here as possible. She set up a meeting with our tree contractor and I got to meet him, and we have a blacksmith contractor that I got to meet, and a mason – the three of those guys have all individually been working here as contractors for like twenty or thirty years, so they know the place, the history, they can tell you everything they’ve worked on here. It was really good to meet them.

For the project meeting, Gail brought together the project team and they gave me the background on the project. So, I got up to speed with it. If you asked me to show you where all the valves are, or asked me to say which valve does what, I don’t have a very concrete understanding of that yet. That’s what Kim was doing, she was tracking that kind of thing. For example, we just had an issue where we’ve got water coming out of the ground at one of the lower spots in the garden, and we’re trying to figure out where that’s coming from. It was an old water box that was abandoned, so now we’re trying to figure out if there’s water from the new line getting into the old line. Kim knows where all those lines are, where all those valves are, and so as we were going through trying to troubleshoot, she was invaluable. We were opening and closing the water valves over on the Bowling Green yesterday as part of this trouble shooting, and if you go over there, there are like six valves on the ground. And if you don’t know which turns what off, you’re kind of lost. We have drawings of that, and it’s all documented, but when you’re out in the field – me personally, I’d have to run back, get the drawings, look at them and figure it out. Kim just knows.

With the project wrapping up right as I was beginning my job here, my real goal wasn’t trying to get completely up to speed with everything that had been done. What I was really trying to get up to speed with was what remaining work needed to be done. Now we’re pretty much in the punch list phase. We’ve been tracking the punch list and making sure that stuff gets done well and in a quality way. My big mission was to make sure everything got wrapped up nicely, that anything we discovered that wasn’t right got fixed. And we’re discovering a couple of things that weren’t done right, and we’re working hard to make sure they get fixed.

BT: What are some examples of things that are still being worked out, whether those are things on the punch list, or just the laying out of sod and things like that?

JK: There was some of that work, laying out sod, like you said. Some of it we’re going to have to come behind and just fix. For example, there was compacted soil out on the East Lawn. The contractor tilled it as much as they were going to do, and they put sod down. Well, now that it’s one hundred degrees outside, we’re seeing some grass browning out, and we think that’s because the soil is still very compacted there, and it’s not holding water. At some point we’re going to have to go in and do it the way we feel it should be done, which means more soil amendments, more soil work, and we’re probably going to have to resod and reseed a portion of that this fall when the weather’s appropriate.

There were some brick walkways that were lifted and redone and we don’t feel they were redone in the same way our mason would have done them. We’ve had some washing out of sand and subbase out from under those walkways, and then just some random things. Just recently in the Fountain Terrace the water line between a valve and the autofill just failed. No one was digging or doing anything in that area, and we just had water coming out of the ground. We turned the valve off and the problem stopped, but now we need them to come back in and dig that up and replace the line. It’ll be interesting to see what happened with that line. Does it have a crack in the PVC, or was it not hooked up properly? Did a valve fail, or something like that? All these projects always have a warranty for exactly that reason.

I don’t know where it fits with your question, but I think one of the bigger impacts of the project, aside from the impact on the garden itself, has been the morale of the gardeners. I think it was really tough for them to go through this project, because, first off, they weren’t allowed in certain parts of the garden. I think the other thing is, they saw things being done they weren’t happy with, and that’s not a knock on the contractors, it’s just the way things happen when you have these large projects. You end up with a general contractor and a lot of subcontractors and the landscaping is always subcontracted out. I can imagine it’s frustrating as a gardener when you see something being done in the garden perhaps not at the high level that you’d do it yourself, and you’re somewhat powerless to make a change. Because you can’t tell that subcontractor what to do, because they’re reporting to the contractors. You have to go back to the general contractor and say, “We don’t like the way the sod is being laid; it really should be done this way.” By the time that all gets worked back down to the subcontractor, a lot of times the work’s already been completed, and then you’re talking about having someone come back to rework it, or you cut your losses and let that one go.

So, you have to pick your battles, and I think for the gardeners in particular, who maybe aren’t as familiar with these kinds of large projects, that was frustrating. I think there were some instances where they tried to prevent damage to the garden from some of the larger equipment by telling people, “Hey, you shouldn’t bring that equipment in here,” and I think at some point they were told not to do that because they were interfering with the construction operations in the garden. And there is a point there, because you can’t just have your staff stopping contracting work left, right, and center, because there is a cost to that. If you’re delaying the contractor they’re going to bill you for the delay, so it needs to be controlled.

My experience in the government has always been with a COTR, which is a Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative, and everything goes through the COTR. If you’re a gardener and there’s a garden project and you’re not happy with something, you tell the COTR, and they can stop work and fix it. So, it’s a little more formalized in the government. I think here, it was such a big project with so many moving parts that it may have been hard to keep up with some of that. My sense is that the gardeners this spring were a little bit demoralized and kind of – not upset, but it’s difficult to see big equipment come through and dig up the garden that you’ve worked so hard for so many years to make beautiful. And then you have someone trench through it and cause all this damage. It had to happen, but I think it was tough for them to see it.

They’ve been working really, really hard this spring to bring the garden back up to what they would consider par, and I think the gardens look great, and now the gardeners are feeling better about it. But back in March when we were about to open to the public, I don’t think any of us felt like the garden was in tip-top shape. I think all of us were a little nervous and embarrassed to open to the public. We were worried about the public’s perception of the garden in its rough state.

BT: It’s interesting to hear that. I remember in the Director’s Office we were talking about how to effectively communicate that the gardens are going to feel different at the opening, and how to phrase that.

JK: A lot of thought was put into that, and I think it was done well, and I think it was a good decision to open when we said we were going to open. We got a complaint or two, and there were a couple of things that weren’t gorgeous, but the big draws here in the spring – the cherries on Cherry Hill, the forsythias – all of that was in bloom, and it looked nice. Part of it was just getting the gardeners back into the garden and having the time to put things back together. I think it was a little stressful for them, because at the same time they were trying to do normal springtime work, they were also trying to fix problems and damage from the renovation. They also couldn’t fix some things that the contractors needed to fix. For example, if the contractors left spoils – piles of soil – in the garden, we wanted them to come back and pick those things up. It probably would have been quicker if I’d just told the garden staff to grab a wheelbarrow and pick that up – it would have been gone by the end of the day. But we didn’t want to take on those types of things that were really the responsibility of the contractors. In some cases, it meant leaving something for a day or two, or a week, and waiting for the contractor to do it, even though it bothered us to leave it there. We had to be careful not to take on their work for warrantee reasons. And we had plenty of our own work to do, too. So, it was a little bit challenging. but we got through it, and I think everyone’s really happy now.

BT: What are some ways the renovation project has made working in the garden easier?

JK: The water supply has been huge. I wasn’t here, but what I’m told is that it was just breaking left and right, as soon as you’d fix one thing it would break somewhere else. So, to know that now we have new pipes and that everything’s recently been redone and is more reliable, it’s a comforting feeling. We also have a lot more access to water in the garden. We added a number of water boxes, and I’ve gone this spring and bought a lot of portable tripod sprinklers, so now the garden staff can set up sprinklers and go and do something else and come back and move them.

I think we all like the idea that some of the fountains are now recirculating. We’re still working through finetuning some adjustments to make sure they’re running the way we want them to, but that should make things easier in the long run. We shouldn’t have to dump and clean Lovers’ Lane Pool once or twice or month, for example, which is what they used to have to do. The algae would get really thick and gross and they would drain the whole thing, scrub it out, and refill it, at least once a month, sometimes twice a month. Now we have it recirculating, and we have a chlorinator in there, which we’ve actually not been using a lot because we want to encourage wildlife to use the pond. We get a lot of dragonflies and ducks and things like that. We’re trying to slowly dial in the chlorine so we can keep the algae down. I don’t even care if the pool is somewhat green, because that’s how it’s always been and that fits the natural look of that part of the garden. But I don’t want it to get so green and thick that the gardeners feel they have to drain it. So, we’re finding that happy medium, but that’s an example of where we’ve gained an efficiency.

And that’s it. The storm water system part doesn’t really make anything easier for anyone, but it makes us feel better about our stewardship of the garden. I think we all feel better knowing that we’re not just sending all of our water down the hill to the park. I’ve gone out in some rainstorms and watched the system in a downpour and it is effective. It’s not the most effective thing we could have done – we probably could have done an even more robust system, but it would have been way more invasive. For what we did, and for the constraints we were under, I think it’s successful.

BT: Are there negative impacts of the project that you’re seeing or expect to see?

JK: When you talk about the impact of the project, one thing we’re nervous about is the impact to our trees. We won’t really know how successful we were in mitigating that impact for a couple of years. Tree stress and tree damage from construction doesn’t show up right away; when tree roots are cut the stress shows up incrementally over time. I’ll give you an example. About ten years ago they built the Capitol Visitor Center, and now they’re seeing trees dying around the perimeter of where the construction was. And that’s directly related to construction damage. So, we’re going to be watching the trees really carefully. We’ve done a lot of preventative remediation, and after the project we came through and did some soil invigoration, some fertilization, some things like that for some of our really prized trees to help mitigate any stress that they may have encountered. We’re going to be watching for limb dieback and signs of tree stress over the next couple of years, and hopefully we don’t see any – or hopefully we don’t see more than you would normally see.

BT: What do you think it means for a historic site to become sustainable? How do those two drives, increasing sustainability and preserving this historical site, interact? I know you mentioned the swale system could have been beefier, but we pulled back a bit.

JK: Yea, that’s a good question. I think there’s always a tradeoff. With a historic garden like this, our primary mission is to protect the garden. It’s the last, most extensive Farrand garden in existence, so we have to do everything we can to protect it. With regard to sustainability, you can break it down into design and infrastructure, and then into practice, that is, horticultural practice. Wherever possible, we’re using sustainable practices on a day to day basis – we scout for insects rather than just blanket spray the gardens, and things like that. We try to minimize our use of pesticide and chemical fertilizers, we try to do everything organically first if we can. So, it’s those types of things that you can do operationally on a day to day basis, that sometimes add more work, sometimes make work more difficult, but they help with your sustainable practices and goals.

I think the other side of that is, a lot of sustainable infrastructure that you can put in place – like bioretention swales or more buried cisterns – is difficult to introduce to a garden like this one, because you risk damaging the historic fabric of the space. So, when we talk about increasing the sustainability of the garden’s design, that argument mainly comes down to native plants versus invasive plants. We have a lot of non-native invasives in the garden that Farrand specifically called for in the design, because a hundred years ago they weren’t known to be invasive, and there wasn’t a native plant movement. Our Harvard intern this summer is actually doing a project called Reinterpreting Farrand, where she’s identifying all the non-natives and all the invasives in Farrand’s design and she’s going to help us by either making treatment recommendations as to how we can manage those plants and make them less invasive, or substitution recommendations, so we can replace those plants with non-invasive or native plants while not compromising the design or intent of the garden.

Luckily for us, Farrand was very insightful. Not only did she meticulously document her decisions and her design intent, but she also did things like write the Plant Book, where she gives a lot of planting options and alternatives. For example, on the North Vista there are magnolias that are planted around the foundation of the house, and in her book she says something like, “If conditions change in the future and those plants are no longer well-suited to that area, you may substitute with other broad leaf evergreen plants, but they should be coarse textured and they should be blue-green color in color, not yellow-green.”

She’s very concerned with scale and texture and color, but she leaves quite a bit open for interpretation in terms of specific plant varieties. We have a plant in the garden called privet, it’s a shrub that blooms in the spring that has a tremendously fragrant white flower and that produces a blue berry, and we think it’s pretty invasive, because the birds eat the berries and then they reseed it elsewhere. It’s not only spreading in our garden, there’s potential for it to spread into the park, and in Montrose Park, and everywhere else, just through the birds. So, that’s an example of one we might want to replace with something else. We’ll be looking for something large that flowers in the spring, a fragrant white-flowered shrub that produces a berry. It might even be native – there are a number of Viburnum shrubs that would fit the bill. We could definitely make a case for replacing Ligustrum with a native Viburnum, and that would make the garden more sustainable.

But there are places where we’re just not going to do that. There are places where English ivy is used in the garden very effectively. On some of the large terrace walls, Farrand specifically used it to soften the hardscaping, and it’s very effective for that purpose. We’re probably not going to remove that ivy. Right now we keep it in its juvenile form so that it doesn’t flower and fruit and reseed elsewhere. But ivy also spreads vegetatively, and there are some areas in the garden where Farrand didn’t specify ivy, but it’s just escaped and spread there. There are other areas where she did specify it and we could use something else. If it’s used as a ground cover on a flat piece of ground, we could substitute it for something else. There are several areas where it’s present on a steep slope and it’s actually holding that soil, and I’d be very worried about removing it and replacing it with something else, because we’d run the risk of losing that soil. Bottom line, there are some places where we’re probably just going to have English ivy, and that may not be the most sustainable thing, but it’s true to the historic mission of the garden.

Gail Griffin

BT: What were some of the big problems in the garden? I know there were a lot of problems with the pipes.

GG: We were having problems with water supply lines and storm water runoff.

BT: Yes, especially a three-inch water line, right?

GG: Yes, it came from near the sycamore in the Orchard and across the Arbor Terrace to the swimming pool. The mitigation of storm water damage at the back of the property was also one of the primary objectives of the project. We hoped to mitigate the water flow into Dumbarton Oaks Park. Another issue was that many of our pools and fountains weren’t recirculating. Our goal was increased environmental responsibility, as well as making it easier for our staff to take care of the garden.

We hoped to do all this work with as little impact on the design and health of the gardens. It’s going to take a while for the garden to recover completely, but I think it’s remarkable what progress has already been made.

BT: What was the planning stage for the project like? When you were determining the route of the new water line loop?

GG: What was really driving the choice of routes was the protection of the trees on the property. In 2000, with the help of Paul Cote at Harvard, we applied for a Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust grant to develop a Geographic Information System for the gardens. We wanted to be able to see the relationship between what lies beneath the surface of the garden and what is above. Years later, when John Beardsley and I started an internship program in the summertime, we had a GIS intern every summer. Paul, who has taught at the Graduate School of Design and now works and teaches in Cambridge, directed our interns on what to do to expand upon the original 2000 system.

At the beginning of the project, when we contacted Paul and asked him to sort out a route based on the trees’ locations, he generated a map with two concentric circles around each of the thousand or so trees, which had all been georeferenced by our arborists, Bartlett Tree Experts. Bill Eck of Bartlett defined the size of the circles with the inner circle indicating a zone that could not be entered, and an outer circle for a zone where roots could be disturbed on one side. The biggest help in avoiding tree damage was Paul’s mapping and the air spading and root pruning that Bartlett did based on the mapping and the water line locations. We have asked that all the geographic information generated over the course of this project be entered into the existing GIS.

The other thing that was critical to the success of the project was the diligence of staff member Kim Frietze working with the contractors. Before the work began, Joe Mills and Kim photographed the entire garden carefully so that later, when things looked different, there was a record of how everything had been.

I think that the short time frame for the project was the biggest difficulty. If we could have started the project earlier or had more time at the end, it would have been easier.

BT: When was it originally set to start? I know most of the work began in September.

GG: In the middle of July, but because of delays, Whiting-Turner couldn’t start until later.

BT: What was the day-to-day work like for you during the project?

GG: It was chaotic. There was so much happening at the same time.

BT: What was it like to have made this garden your own for twenty years, and then to see it torn up?

GG: It was painful, not because I had made it my own, but because I was used to caring for it and thought of it as resilient. Once the project began, it seemed very vulnerable. We tried to make sure that the contractors knew anything that we knew that could possibly help them. That was hard sometimes, making sure we’d conveyed information that was second nature to us but that they did not know.

The muddiness caused by the work bothered me because when a soil is worked when it is wet, it destroys its structure. Seeing all that mud, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this soil ever going to recover?” I worry there may be unexpected things that come up years from now, like compacted soil or unrealized damage to the trees.

BT: Someone had mentioned to me that the crane they brought in to remove a big hollow oak tree actually ended up crushing one of the new lines.

GG: We were concerned that might happen, but I didn’t know it actually had.

BT: Jonathan was telling me one of the nicer parts of the onboarding process was your setting up meetings with all the groups and people we typically work with.

GG: Yes, and another big advantage was that Jonathan and I already knew each other and were friends.

BT: How long have you guys known each other?

GG: I would say I’ve probably known him fifteen years. I got to know him when he was working for Merrifield, and I’ve known him in many other different environments. When he was at the Smithsonian and in charge of their winter programs, he did a really good job. I like the fact that he appreciates other peoples’ thoughts, he doesn’t bulldoze people, or get instantly critical. When I’ve talked with the garden staff since I left, I’ve seen a focus that’s really impressed me, because they’ve had so much to do, and they’ve worked hard bringing everything back from where it was.

BT: You’d imagine there’d be some demoralization from watching everything be taken apart, but everyone’s’ been working hard for a while now.

GG: Yes.

BT: Were you planting those trees right before the opening?

GG: Yes, because we had such a funny spring, and a funny summer too, it pushed all the work together.

BT: When I spoke to Marc he talked about planting the trees almost as a way of reclaiming the space.

GG: That’s very true. I think it’s often wise to just do everything at once, even if it’s really hard going through the process.

Kimberly Frietze

BT: What were some of the large problems or obstacles that arose during the course of the project?

KF: The weather was huge. It was much colder than anyone wished for. They had to bring in equipment that was way too big when they were working on Cherry Hill because the ground was frozen and they had to break up the soil. They couldn’t use the mini excavators, which we’d all decided were okay, and instead they brought in these massive things to chisel out areas where they could install the lines and catch basins.

But the first real problem was that the permitting took a really long time. That delayed the project getting started, and because you had that delay at the start and the end date was very firm, there was such a pressure to get everything done, and they rushed through a lot of things that should not have been rushed. But that was the nature of the thing. So, the permitting took much longer than we expected, and Whiting-Turner had to start with what they could without the permits, which was the demo of all the fountains and walkways.

When we first talked about the project there was going to be a clear sequence of events that would happen when they went through a space. They’d do the work in the area, then the gardeners would follow and fix everything up – we also were moving plant material for them – and we were supposed to come back through afterward and heal things up. And that just didn’t work out. There were delays on their part, like they didn’t have the gate valves for a really long time, so they were going through the garden and leaving these holes because they didn’t have the valves to install and finish the work. So just everything about that well-thought plan didn’t work out.

BT: So, the weather – the frozen ground – mostly became an issue in January and February?

KF: Yea, that became a huge issue when they were putting back the fountains, because concrete doesn’t cure at a certain temperature, so they had to wait for temperatures to increase, and in some cases they just tented up an area using blankets and things like that, and the masons sometimes worked under the blankets to deal with the temperature.

BT: Did that happen at the Ellipse Fountain?

KF: That happened at the Ellipse and some of the walkways too. They would put a blanket down to help defrost the soil, then they would do the excavation work, and then they would try to set the mortar and everything. They did it really quickly – they’d have to do it the work in batches and then they’d have to cover it up again. With the Ellipse Fountain, when they did the waterproof shell, they had the whole thing tented up and they had heaters inside of it. They did that with the Grotto Fountain as well – they had it all scaffolded, with tenting over it and heaters inside.

Access was problematic too. Dealing with the topography is really a challenge here, and there was also a lot of uncertainty about what was underneath. They encountered old lines that weren’t on any drawings, and they found of vein of quartz – it just made them slower, because they had to deal with these giant pieces of quartz. There’s also a lot of river stone and other types of granite and fill in the garden, and it was hard for them to deal with the material and get deep enough in some places. With the Rose Garden, they couldn’t take any machinery in there because the gate is too narrow, and they had to do a lot of that work by hand, with a little thing called a Ditch Witch, which is just a trencher you hold onto. There were some places we didn’t want them to go through with any kind of machinery, and the topography and hardscape was a challenge for them.

BT: I wanted to ask you about some of the reasons we used directional drilling beneath the Beech Terrace.

KF: Because of the beech. That’s a priceless treasure – it’s invaluable. We would have liked to use the directional driller in a wider area of the garden, but because the piece of machinery was so massive it could only fit on the East Lawn. Initially the whole Allée was going to be done that way. In the planning phases they were going to go under the Pebble Garden, up through Crabapple Hill, and make that connection there. In the end, the Pebble Garden got connected to the new line, but the connection from the Pebble Garden down to box walk is still the old line. The directional driller was a massive thing – there’s a picture of it in the Catalogue House. It looked almost like a piece of artillery – it had these shafts that they kept feeding into it like you would feed a torpedo or something. It was really neat to watch.

BT: What exactly was done in the Forsythia Dell and along Cherry Hill? I know we added new gutters – how were we careful about not intruding on the design of the space?

KF: The gutters match the walkway, and the forsythia will actually overreach the gutter, drooping over it, so it’ll be concealed. The new gutter is going to prevent erosion from happening and also handle water running down the hill better. But if you walk down the sidewalk, it’s not obvious – the way it was treated and added on is really seamless.

BT: I know there was a lot of shearing of the forsythias in preparation for the work done down there. Were there other parts of the garden where you had to tie back plant material?

KF: Yes. In the Star Garden the azaleas were tied back, so were the yews in the Herbaceous Borders, and some parts of the hedges were taken out and heeled in the Kitchen Garden. A fair number of the roses at the western slope of Crabapple Hill had to be removed and heeled there too. Where else did they get to? The witch-hazels in the Terrior Column area were tied back, same with the trees. Anytime they went near trees we would lift the limbs and tie them up so that the arm of the digger wouldn’t scrape them. Basically, we tried to tie everything back, and they just weren’t allowed to get too close to the plant material.

BT: With Cherry hill, did the weather impact the installation of the catch basins?

KF: Yes. That was done in February and March, and those were the last things to go in. It’s really hard to dig when it’s that cold, so they had to chip out the soil, and then they brought in the basins with their big machinery.

BT: Was it just a larger excavator?

KF: Yea, it was the mama excavator. It was frightening – I didn’t like seeing that in the garden.

BT: It came through the gardener’s gate?

KF: Yes, and down those paths. Part of the reason some of the paths had to be redone is because that machinery cracked them.

BT: Could you walk me through the process of renovating the Ellipse Fountain? I mean opening it up, seeing the base, discovering things were wrong, and how the plan evolved from there.

KF: Sure. With the Ellipse Fountain, Federal Masonry started taking out the pieces of the outer fountain floor. They lifted out all the flagstones first, and then they took out the cobbles. After they’d done that, they removed a section of the wall, because we were trying to conserve all the stone and they needed to see how easy it was to break it apart. We were just going to waterproof what was there, but that’s when we found out that the whole thing had to be redone, because the wall of that fountain was – well, it was an inconsistent blob of cement. It was really thick, and it looked like they’d applied it by just shoveling a bunch of cement in a trench and then jamming the stone in. The concrete fountain was all at an angle, it was just crazy, and that made it hard to salvage some of the stones. The ones that were installed initially were these really big pieces that wouldn’t fit in the new concrete wall, so we had to use a lot of new stone. We tried to match it as closely as possible, because they don’t quarry that particular stone anymore – the quarries are gone from Rock Creek.

Once they realized the concrete was irregular, they had to bring in machinery to break it down, and the whole Ellipse was just trashed. They had to use the jack hammer attachment on the excavator to take out the concrete. The masons removed as much as they could and decided that because the cobbles in the floor of the outer fountain were like cubes and the flagstones were flat – there was an inconsistency in the level of the fountain’s base – they needed to put a new floor in. Originally, they basically dug a trench for the cobblestones and poured concrete and set the cobbles in, so they couldn’t use the existing floor to relay everything.

Ultimately, they raised the level of the floor, and because initially it wasn’t a perfect oval shape, when they reinstalled the stones, some pieces didn’t fit anymore. So, they had to cut a little bit here, a little bit there. One of the drain covers you can’t turn really well anymore, because it’s so flush now, since they had to raise the floor. They also raised the existing overflow, so the water sits lower in the pool now. The fountain was designed to be almost like an infinity pool, but because of the renovation there’s a bit of a rim now, where the water was supposed to disappear into the sod. The retaining wall of the fountain is at an angle to allow the sod to grow right up to the edge, but that whole effect is lost now because the overflow was changed. You couldn’t fix the overflow because it’s part of the actual fountain piece, and nobody touched that except to clean it and do conservation work. And that’s what they did. They cleaned it and Fountain Craft put in new recirculating lines, but other than that, the center fountain was only conserved.

And that was all so necessary. I can’t remember the exact amount, but the pool lost so much water. The first summer I worked here, part of what I had to do with that crew was measure the water everyday and see how many inches had been lost. We were always adding water to it. It was already recirculating, but it was like a sieve – it was leaking massive amounts of water.

Because of the heavy machinery that they used there, there was a lot of soil compaction, and at the end we had to take out a lot of soil. We ended up backfilling Pompeii, which is what we call the area that used to have the hotbeds. If you remember it was like an open ruin. That wasn’t going to be renovated anytime soon, and nobody knew what to do with it, so Gail decided we should just backfill it. We know it’s there, and we can dig it back out whenever anybody’s ready to do something with it. After that we had new soil put in in the Ellipse and they put sod over it, and it looks as you see it now.

BT: I know Melisande’s’ Allée was a particularly sensitive area, digging-wise. What were some of the issues there?

KF: Bartlett was a really big help – they did the air spading and the root pruning. They were a huge help with the entire project. Bill Eck from Bartlett has worked with these trees for years, and his boss did before him, so they have a very good relationship with us. They’re like family. So, he was out to protect the garden and all the tree protection that was put in place was at his suggestion. They decided the safest route was directly under the walkway because it was the direct center of the trees, and because it was a barrier of sorts. Bill thought that the root system had already accommodated itself away from the path, so digging there wouldn’t be so terrible. So, they took out the walkway and they did the trenching where the walkway was. They root pruned on one side of the path, and then on the side where the more mature trees were, they used air spades. Closer to Lover’s Lane Pool, where there are two large silver maples, there was a long stretch that they airspaded. It took them a really long time, but it was worth it. For mature trees to lose that much of their root system or to have it damaged – they wouldn’t survive. And they had to change the route too, because initially they were going to use the directional driller throughout the Allée – it was supposed to go all the way down the Allée, the upper and lower part, and come out on the other side of Camellia Circle. But because we couldn’t bring in the directional driller to that area and of the large silver maples there, the route was changed to avoid messing with them in any way – one is like a heritage tree.

BT: How does root pruning work? Are you just trimming back smaller roots?

KF: Basically, you’re using a really large saw – think of a circular saw – that cuts into the soil, and you’re cutting the roots in a very direct manner, whereas an excavator lifts and tears. You’re cutting the roots so that when the excavator comes through it’s not going to pull the entire thing out to the base of the tree, and it’s not going to gouge a big rip in the root system. It’s a clinical cut – a clear cut, as opposed to a lift and rip and gouge. That was used outside the critical root zone. Anytime you were in the critical root zone you had to use the air spades – you couldn’t risk damaging those roots at all.

BT: Were there particular areas where the air spading was very handy?

KF: It was very handy along Cherry Hill. Going down the hill, there’s a big silver maple that’s alone in the forsythia and close to the path. That’s where the trench and the drain went. And then all along the Allée, all around the old red oak tree on the Green Garden Terrace – that whole area was air spaded. Any place where there was a valuable tree like that. Air spading was the best tool we had to safeguard the trees. We also used it to loosen up some of the soil after the construction ended. We were worried about compaction around some of the trees, so we asked Bartlett to come and give them the special love treatment, which was air spading around the critical root zone, after which they added some fertilizer and charcoal pieces that would help aerate the roots and feed them so they wouldn’t just have a total shut down.

BT: A lot of the digging around Lovers’ Lane Pool was done by hand. Was that just because the space was so tight?

KF: It was definitely a tight space. The columns are on one side and the wall is on the other, so that’s a really hard place to get anything in. They hand dug there, and they didn’t have to go very deep because it was just for the pool’s recirculating lines. The masons took out the paths on either side and Fountain Craft dug the trench for the new lines all the way around the pool and installed them. The masons only broke out the pieces of the pool that they needed to accommodate the supply and return feeds and a couple of extra new drains, and then they put them back. The pool had already been redone in 1996, I think, and it was already waterproofed, so they just blew out a few sections – it was very straightforward.

The Ellipse Fountain definitely had the most work done. It was more trouble than anyone had anticipated. They kept finding things. There used to be an overview on the Ellipse, for instance, when there was a moat system in the space. Do you know those masks outside of the Gardeners’ Court, those crazy-looking masks that are really hideous and historic? They used to be fountains when this moat system was there. There was an overlook as well, which was basically a concrete platform that extended over the Ellipse, and when Fountain Craft was trying to put the new recirculating lines in, they came across the foundation and all the work for that overlook. It was a huge wall and these guys were digging it all by hand. Then when CTS were putting in the drains along the Ellipse they found a bunch of piping, and everyone was confused as to what was going on. It was all the old moat system. We went to find the drawings, we were all looking at them, and sure enough, all the lines matched the moat system. So, with all of those things, we had to stop and explore and figure out if we were hurting something.

BT: Did they have to be careful about maintaining the design of the walk around Lovers’ Lane Pool?

KF: The design actually had to be slightly altered, because we put the trench in the middle where the actual walk was, and that’s where the valves are too. And because we have to have access to the valves, the brick couldn’t go directly of top of them, so the walk has a little bit more of a curve than it did before – it’s a little more uneven. And so far no one has said anything, except for James Carder, and also John Pond, a master mason who’s done most of the work here in the garden. He wasn’t involved in this project sadly, because he was already tied up at Hillwood. We would have liked to have him as part of the project, because of his level of craft and artistry. He would have found a nice way to do the walk – he noticed it immediately.

The masons totally messed up reinstalling the walkway leaving Fountain Terrace to the Terrior Column. They had to redo that and it’s still not right. The Fountain Terrace is off center, and the way Farrand designed it, the walk had this really nice swoop, so when you were walking towards the Fountain Terrace on her designed path, you didn’t notice. When you came upon it, there was a nice little curve that swooped down into where the Pan statue is. But the way they lined it up to reinstall it, they literally made it straight from the statue of the little boy in the fountain to the Terrior Column, and they also offset the flagstones. They were too close to one of the beds too far from the other, they were supposed to be centered. So, we had to go and use Joe Mills’ photographs and say, “You’ve got to redo this.” We were counting the bricks in some of these pictures, because they needed a course that was sixteen bricks long at a certain point, and that worked its way down to however many bricks. It just wasn’t as wonderful as the way John would have done it.

Marc Vedder

BT: First I wanted to ask what your role in the project was – I know Jonathan had described it basically as a stewardship role.

MV: When we started talking about it, pitching ideas about what we’d like to do with the project, I helped out a lot. Because the project had a lot of different sections – there was the storm water remediation, redoing all the water supply, the reworking of the pools and fountains, in addition we were trying to figure out where to put new water boxes and how to get there. We had concerns about maintaining the health of existing trees and the infrastructure and in selecting what kind of hydrants we were going to use and deciding on the quick connect couplers. I had a lot of input on the initial planning phases.

We sat down – Gail and some of the other people – and asked, “What is this gonna entail?” I don’t know how much of this you already know, but we had an issue initially with the old water line that ran around the property in a big loop. Off of that line there were some secondary ones that came off of it, and then there were smaller pieces that came off of those trunks. But we’d had several breaks throughout the years. One of the lines that brought water to the swimming pool which started at the American sycamore in the upper Allée had to be winterized, because all the terraces – the Arbor Terrace, the Fountain Terrace, the Rose Garden, the Urn Terrace, the swimming pool – had spigots on it. We would shut that one off every late fall, and when we turned it back on we had to do it really slowly. Every year when we kicked that thing on we gambled, and often something broke. After Alan got here, it was like the third or fourth break when he said, “I’ve had it.” We had a company called Echologics come down and do some weird sounding, where they sent sound waves through the ground and based on that came up with analysis of our water pipes and the condition they were in. One issue with that process was they only did pipes that I think were greater than two inches, so some of the secondary pipes were never actually considered. But based on that report, they decided we needed to redo everything. I have no way of knowing how bad some of the existing pipes were. We rarely had any leaks in the larger three- or four-inch lines, but we had a lot of leaks in the one-inch or and two inch lines, sort of centered in the Rose Garden. We had nothing but issues, so for three years we didn’t have any water up there.

At one point we put an irrigation system in the Fountain Terrace and every time that system would cut on it would shake the pipes a little bit, and that created more breakage. Irrigation systems can be good or bad, but in this section of the garden we had a lot of foot traffic, and trying to irrigate the turf in the middle of the day seemed like a waste of water, and having it on while the public was in the garden wasn’t an option. It’s hard to work in the space while it’s being watered, so we decided to put the irrigation system in. The turf can get watered early, separately from the beds, and that’s generally better practice. Before we would just set up sprinklers and hope for the best, and we weren’t getting good results. There was a lot of fungus in the turf, all sorts of things. But that vibration kept breaking the pipes, and it was sort of a slow decline. That pipe needed to be replaced, and it was from there they decided to do an analysis of our entire water system.

That’s just a little bit of background. This was going to be a huge project that never had been done before, and a lot of the water supply in the garden had been put in prior to even the hardscape going in, and certainly the softscape on top of it, so our concern was what kind of tree protection we were going to set up. We consulted with an arborist from Bartlett to set up some kind of reasonable tree protection system, and I think we followed that plan for the most part. We ended up not putting up any the kind of fencing that the code for a regular construction site would have required – it was so invasive, or expensive, that we decided not to do it. We were hoping that the foreman would spray paint something showing that, “You can’t cross this line.” There are formulas for all of that, based on how many roots you’re going to cut and how close you’re going to get to the diameter of the tree. I think for the most part we kept pretty close to that, especially initially. As the project started things were going pretty smoothly, because you feel like you have a lot of time.

But then the weather went sour and things started freezing, and we had a late start on the project, too. The whole thing was delayed two or three months by permitting rights. I think in earnest we didn’t start digging until almost October, so it was a huge delay, and we were closed to the public the whole time. Once it started they came in here just really wanting to get it done. They started out with very small excavators, very civilized, but as the time limit came up and they wanted to wrap things up, it got a little – well, I wouldn’t say it was horrible or anything, but you could tell people were just trying to get everything done as quickly as possible.

BT: I understand there was some hard freezing happening in January and February. Was that when this larger equipment was brought in?

MV: Yea, it was much larger machinery, and there were multiple pieces, and there’s no way one foreman could really maintain one hundred percent control over that. That was one of the things I wish had been done better. You were asking what my role was, well a lot of it was saying, “This is not right, you can’t do this.” A big part of what I did was try to represent the interest of the garden throughout this project. We had a chain of command so I couldn’t just go yell at people, but I would tell Kim, for instance, and she would tell Whiting-Turner, or I would talk to the foreman for Whiting-Turner, or Gail. I spent a lot of time going around just checking the work and double-checking things. It was hard not to get involved, because they were in our space. I tried to really hard to be helpful to them – you know, “We need to do this water test, let’s get this done.” I worked with Gail and Kim a lot and with the guy from Whiting-Turner, just trying to facilitate things, because the common goal was to get it done on time and while minimizing damage. Everyone shared that opinion, and we tried to work together as much as possible, so that was sort of a positive thing.

One of the issues too was that due to the time schedule they had started digging on Fair View Hill and the Forsythia Dell, and they were supposed to make a big loop, and then once they were done we’d be able to go behind them and sort of put things together. But that’s not quite what happened. There was a back-ordering issue on some of the valves, so they had to keep coming back in to install things, and the code forced them to backfill every hole they dug, so they ended up digging the same thing multiple times. We were never quite sure if they were really done.

That was a smaller difficulty that made the end of the project, in March, a really rushed affair. You know, in our mind, we were going to be closed for almost ten months, we thought we were going to have this really great opportunity to get all these big projects done. And that was a complete fallacy, thinking that we were going to have all this time because we weren’t going to have to worry about little things – you know, we’re closed to the public, we can leave piles of trash for a day, it won’t be a big deal. But really this project ended up sucking so much of everyone’s energy, just having to keep an eye on things, moving plants out of the way at the last minute. There were some communication glitches and last-minute schedule changes that caught us off guard. So that part of it was kind of tough.

I think it was also an interesting project in the sense of seeing the different soil horizons, examining some of the stuff that was found while digging and realizing that a lot of our old drawings were completely bogus. I mean, we had old water supply maps and drawings and some of those were spot on, but amendments had been made over the years, and we realized that some of the changes were not archived or noted. Other times we weren’t able to locate things, or they would find things the hard way – oh, there it is! And then you had to ask what this could be. Once the process of rebuilding started, meaning that the masonry and all that came back, a big part of our role was to ensure that things were built back in their proper places. At times we would have to get in there and argue with the powers that be, and with the contractors, and say, “Maybe this wasn’t perfect the way it was, but this is not at all the way it was.” We were doing a lot of that from pictures, but also from memory. You know, a lot of us have been here for many years.

We were just trying to get it back to what it was, or better, if possible. A water improvement project should be better. Initially we gave them our wish list that said this is how many water boxes we want, and this is where we want them, and of course not all of that happened because it was just too invasive. We ended up using quick connect coupling, which goes in the ground a lot less deeply. We did some research on that. We were even thinking for a minute that maybe we could tap into the existing irrigation system because it was already there, but we decided to go with the quick connect system. The main water line runs below the frost line, three feet or deeper, but this stuff is maybe a foot or a foot and half under the ground, so it’s much shallower. And that’s what we have now in the Rose Garden. They’re all connected in one line, and it wasn’t nearly as invasive to install it – they could have hand dug it if they wanted to, but I think they ended up using a Ditch Witch. One of the changes now is that we went from all frost-free hydrants to these new ones, which we have to winterize. But in each part of the garden there is also a winter water box, which is connected to the main line because you never know, if you have new plantings that you did in the fall, you may have to water them even in the dead of winter.

And then we had all the fountain work, which was huge. Lovers’ Lane Pool was changed to be recirculating. We tried to keep an eye on that work. Sometimes we’d go out and say, “Hey, you guys are cutting way too close to this tree,” something we were really concerned about. Kim played a big, big role in that. She went out and took pictures everyday of everything that was happening to catalogue our work, so you had a really good idea of what was going on. No contractor is ever going to care as much as people who have a sense of ownership. It was difficult at times to not go up to someone and say, “This is not okay.” And those guys were subs – we couldn’t just yell at some sub. For the most part what we tried to do was cultivate good relationships with the subs, so we could at least tell them, “Can you wait a minute until we get someone that can actually officially tell you what you can and can’t do?” That wasn’t always so easy, because in that moment you kind of want to jump in.

We’ve had projects before, and all those had a large impact on the institution, and even on the grounds, but nothing in the grounds of that magnitude, I don’t think ever. Some people were more peripheral in the project – some of the groups, like the group I work for, had a lot of the work in their area, and a lot of the weird work, too. The stuff on the Front Lawn was pretty straightforward, though of course they destroyed that in the process. Coming up through the terraces and under the walls and weird things like that, and cutting through Fountain Terrace took a long time. Things got broke and they were very difficult to put back right again. Even having them put the soil back in eh right order was hard. You’d think that when they were digging whatever was on the top would go right back on the top, but not necessarily. A lot of subsoil was brought up, and we’re still in the process of trying to remediate some of that.

Compaction was a problem too. Bartlett did a lot of air spade work around some of the bigger trees. That’s literally just a big compressed air spade that shoots the soil off and fluffs everything up. We’re going to get one for the staff here to use, because we know that within the first five years is when you see the decline of older trees. Some of the stuff’s immediate – the minute it got hot we started to see stuff die back – but it’s a slow thing usually. Also, if grades get changed, even minimally – if you raise or lower the soil profile in a given area or change the hydrology of a given area, like we did when we put an extra concrete swale in Cherry Hill – even that will change the way the water flows a little bit. And those things affect the existing fauna. By tilling the area or maybe adding some soil you’ve changed, even marginally, the way the water runs. It’s curious to see how that affects things. The older the plants are the harder time they have adapting to a new regimen, so we’re going to see how things adjust.

BT: How did the garden staff actually interact with the garden? How did you work with a space before and after the contracting work had been done?

MV: We had a schedule that Gail made up, saying basically, this is where the contractor is going to be, and we’d walked the basic route they were going to take. The idea was if there was stuff we wanted to keep, we’d dig it out. With the Forsythia Dell, they gave us an approximate area that they were going to come through, and all of us went in and started digging and got a whole bunch of stuff out of there and kept if off site in mounded soil or pots. Once they were done we were supposed to put everything back. Now that got delayed obviously – they didn’t have the valve boxes – so we started scrambling a little bit, because we were running out of room to stash stuff. They did it in the vegetable garden, too. We moved a bunch of shrubbery and an entire path to get out of their way and tried to put everything back once they were done.

That was the garden staff as a whole. There wasn’t much they could do with the Ellipse, but the middle crew certainly had a lot to do with the other spaces. In the Forsythia Dell, and then as the trench came through the Vegetable Garden and up through the Herbaceous Borders and the Orchard, we had to move as much stuff as we could. As it moved through the Allée we couldn’t move much, but when it went into the Fountain Terrace we moved as many plants as we could. In the Rose Garden they initially wanted to cut through the beds but they ended up rerouting it a bit, and everything got reconfigured around the new irrigation system. A lot of that work was done on site, making decisions and working with the irrigation company and Whiting-Turner, making sure they actually had access to the old plans.

I tried to make of made sure that there was good communication, because sometimes those guys would show up with a very compressed list that the head contractor had given them that wasn’t exhaustive, or sometimes something would happen right in the middle of work, and if you already know what something’s supposed to look like, it’s pretty easy to tell when it’s wrong. In terms of prep work, that would mean turning a system on and evaluating it before any work was done, so we could then reevaluate it afterward and say, “This is a direct result, this got trashed during construction.”

And then you’d figure out things as you went along. Basically, they opened a trench, put a pipe in, and that was the extent of it. But then they ran into issues like finding quartz deposits, or an old drainage pipe, and it took a while to figure out what exactly this thing was, whether we still needed it, or if it was ever useful. You realize some of this stuff was abandoned, or it was just not on any drawing. I feel like they spent a lot of time working form the bottom of Cherry Hill to get up to the Rose Garden. An enormous of time was spent in that swathe, and it was highly intrusive – there were so many formal parts, and they were forced to go under so many paths and into so many different areas. And then they did some underground boring work too, though initially that piece of equipment was supposed to used more widely.

BT: This is the directional drilling?

MV: Yea. They cut across from the East Lawn, underneath the Orangery, and to the Green Terrace, but I think initially the hope was that this thing would be able to be used in more areas. But it’s such an enormous piece of equipment, it pretty much only fit on the Front Lawn. A lot of that work ended up having to be done with excavating and handwork, which added another layer of complexity and made things take a little longer. I think those directional borers need to be set in a pit. In order to enter the soil they have to be low enough. They have to be set low and then they can snake through, so it’s not just a matter of setting it down and letting it go. They have to be set a very specific way. It was a very cool piece of equipment, like a tank with a drill on it, a really long drill you can change directions with. It was a pretty neat thing.

Throughout all of the project we were also trying to maintain the grounds. That was a really big challenge, because again, I thought we’d have all these things we didn’t have to do, which would then leave tons of time to do our wish list stuff. But one way or another, we all got pulled into the project, even picking out stone for the Ellipse. I went out to all these different local quarries to try to find a stone that matched the stone work in the Ellipse, then people weighed in on it – James Carder would say, “Well, this doesn’t look right.” It started slowly but surely adding on. We didn’t get to all of the work we wanted to do. We were just looking in awe as they were ripping through stuff.

It got pretty depressing at the end of the project. There was so much mud everywhere, open soil and disturbed soil, and just piles of trash. We were like, “This is never going to look normal again.” But if you look at it now, you can’t really tell. The longer-term effects we’re going to have to wait for. And of course, we had one of the wettest springs on record, and things are still soaked in some areas, so that was an opportunity to test the storm water system out, which I think really did quite well. That’s huge – for us, we were all thinking we were just getting new pipes, but the storm water project really has a huge implication for slowing water down, and for the park. And then some of the fountain work was really overdue. I don’t know if we would have gone ahead with something of this magnitude if we weren’t doing this anyway – it really pushed all these three projects into one. Making Lovers’ Lane Pool recirculating, for instance, I don’t know if the project hadn’t already been going on if we would have gone and done that, because it’s expensive to convert, and water’s relatively cheap. It’s really more of a conscience thing; it’s not okay for us to dump this much water out. I think it’s something like fifteen thousand gallons of water in Lovers’ Lane Pool, and we’d have to clean it probably at least once a month, if not twice a month, and there was no way of filtering it. Now the pool’s greener than it used to be. We used to keep it clear, clear, clear, but in the literature and Farrand’s work she says it can be kind of like a pond, so now we try to keep it at a level where it’s green but you can kind of still see through it.

We’ve probably saved sixty thousand gallons of water. With the Fountain Terrace, they weren’t initially going to recirculate it, and then at the last minute we came and said we thought that was the whole point of the project. Because the putti fountains were the ones that overflowed; Lovers’ Lane Pool itself never overflowed. We worked with Fountain Craft to retrofit that at the last minute and add an overflow box. But that’s been a big success. We put a little bit of pool chlorine in it, maybe once or twice a week, and there’s a pump in there now that works on a timer, so it runs from the morning till the evening, but it’s off overnight. So, there are electricity savings as well.

It’s good that we documented everything. I think just from past projects that have been done here, it’s amazing how quickly you forget the sequence of events that led to things, and so documenting – even over-documenting things – allows us to have a pretty good idea of how the project moved along. I remember day one the workers came in and dug one hole, and then just like that, they had some really big equipment on the lawns that was too close to some trees. So, we kicked up a stink to the point where no one liked seeing us coming. But we already knew from past experience, and just from working in the real world, a lot of the time the softscape gets abused. People have to understand that trees extend so much further out than you see above ground.

It was important for us too that the soil would not become compacted, that it didn’t lose its good structure after all these things were done to it. Some of this was basically virgin soil in the sense that it had never been built on, or it hadn’t been artificially piled up. I think part of the charm of when this house was built is that the garden was built into the topography. Obviously where you have a large terrace or something like that, they leveled that, and there was clearly fill brought in places. The Arbor Terrace was artificially filled with a weird clay that I don’t know where they got it from. For the most part we have a sandier loam around here, and you can tell from having done some soil probing that that’s soil that’s been here for as long as anyone knows, that’s weathered in place. We wanted to make sure they weren’t going to start digging up all this stuff and really compacting the soil. One of my personal things was, I didn’t want the kind of mass compaction you get when people are rushing around and riding equipment over tree roots. I think that went pretty well in the beginning, but towards the end it got a little bit out of control. We had to sit down a few times, pretty upset, and say, “This is not alright; this is not what we agreed on.” But who knows how much damage there’s going to be down the road. You can drive over things when the ground’s frozen pretty well, but when it’s thawed or wet out it’s different. The South and East Lawn they were using as a parking lot, basically. There were four or five excavators there and one was just huge. They just sat up there. It looked like a dinosaur parking lot.

BT: What was it like on a personal level to see this garden that you’ve been working with for decades basically torn up?

MV: It got harder as things progressed. At the beginning of the project we were all pretty enthusiastic, and it all seemed really possible to put back together, but as time wore on and we noticed that they had to keep backtracking – I would just see piles of debris everywhere – there were times when I got pretty upset about it. It was like, “How are we going to fix this?” I think even in February I was thinking there’s no freaking way. Pessimism was setting in. It was really cold, really wet, and just muddy, and filthy, and beat up, and everywhere, every corner in the garden that you looked at looked like nothing was right. The soil was either turned around and you could just tell it was lousy looking stuff, and trash – it really wore. And it was surprising how much it wore. You kind of got a little pessimistic about it, even for people like Kim who hadn’t been here that long, she was really upset about it, and I said, “Oh, you know, it’s going to be okay,” trying to stay positive about it, but it started wearing on me too, because literally from one corner to the next it was just a big mud pile.

It was the color of dirt everywhere, and everything was aggravated and sore looking, and nothing had time to heal. The minute they started coming out and at least getting their trash out of the way and putting the sod down, we started seeing the possibility of things coming back together. I started thinking there’s no way that we’re getting this done on time, and I think we had to delay not the opening so much, but the charging of the public by I think a week or two. We still had really big equipment sitting here, because things got pushed to the very end. In doing so I think not everything was always done with as much care as it should have been done, because they clearly ran out of time. We had a pretty hard timeline, and if I had to do it over I probably would have left more time for the project.

If the permitting hadn’t gotten delayed we would have had a lot more time, and having three projects going on at once made it difficult to follow what was going on sometimes, and made things look open and disturbed for a long time. You know, there were just piles of bricks sitting there, sometimes for three months. It was like, “This is never going anywhere.” At first, like I said, it didn’t bother me one bit, but toward the end it did, because there wasn’t one undisturbed area in the garden. Nothing had been put back yet because they had to go back in to do another piece over here, over there. We couldn’t put anything back, so everywhere you looked it was trashed. The cutting garden had a big rip through the middle of it. Imagine the Ellipse with no grass on it – it wasn’t really built up, it was just mud ruts. You walk down there and you walk down the hill and everything was covered by it. I think that’s what wore. I couldn’t even imagine how we were going to put things back together.

BT: What’s the process of recovery been like now that the project’s over? Are there lingering problems you’re dealing with?

MV: The lingering problems would be, first of all, fully understanding where everything new is, what valve does what, that kind of thing. It’s all a matter of record, but when you’re out there you have to kind of start figuring it out. We had one break already and had to isolate that quick. I know that the group I work with, we’re still behind because of the project, because so much of the work was centralized in this part of the garden. We’re probably going to play catch up for the rest of this year, and that’ll carry on into next spring.

A lot of stuff got modified too. The blow out valve for the irrigation system got moved, and then when they were in a rush to cover everything over with sod, they buried a lot of the new water boxes and old irrigation heads, so we’ve had to find those. Trying to suss some of that out using old maps, old photos, to find out where everything was, took an enormous amount of time. Some of it was going out with a stick, poking around, finding boxes and irrigation heads. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but if you do it on a larger scale, it’s a fair amount of work.

After the dust had settled, we had to figure out how well it all worked. There’s been some trial and error with the fountains. We’ve had to learn new systems, figure out the nuances of how much chlorine needs to go in, how often you fill it. Some of the things, because they weren’t in the scope of the project, were never addressed. We had pools that were leaking a little bit, but since they were always fed by freshwater, you never noticed. As long as you kept the amount of water you were putting in equal with the overflow, you wouldn’t notice that they were leaking. Once you make them a true recirculating pool, though, you start to notice. We were supposed to have all these people come through and test these systems out and give us a bit of a breakdown of how they work. We’ve had some of that, but I think there could be more.

I will say I was worried about the pipes. We had really big pipes that would come in from the city and then generally get smaller, which preserves pressure. But with this project they had to go from a smaller pipe in to a bigger pipe, which the reverse of the way it’s typically done. Even though you eventually fill up the pipe, you use lose some pressure. For the most part, though, I have to admit that there’s no problem with that. It works well – remarkably well, actually, because the other day I must have counted something like thirty sprinklers going and none of them looked like they were having any problems. So far we’ve been pretty happy with the product, in that sense. We’re going to have to go through winterizing it and exercising all of our valves and things like that before the real first frost. We’re going to have to set up a procedure for that because we never really had to winterize anything, except for one line, and that was just turning off one valve and draining one pipe. Now with some of the quick connect couplers, since they’re much shallower, all of those will have to be winterized.

There’s a percentage of things that have broken already. We had two valves fail, one in the Front Lawn and one that feeds the Fountain Terrace pools. We’ve had some paths wash out because maybe they weren’t tamped down as well as they should have been, or maybe because there was just a slight grade change. When you change things even subtly the existing area will summon a response. We had to have Whiting-Turner come back in, in one form or another, multiple times, still working on their punch list. One of our ongoing responsibilities now is noticing stuff, like that a sidewalk is collapsed. In a way all the rain we’ve had is doing us a favor, because it speeds along the process – things are going to be more likely to fail when you have that much rain. All that rain, all that gravity pushing things down, and if the ditches weren’t compacted as well as they should have been, that speeds things up. If you think about it, if you dig a ditch and take so much soil out, and then you pile that soil back, all of it should fit back in there. But it never does, so whatever that is extra, becomes spoils, right? Eventually, as rain compacts the soil further, you start noticing things collapsing. Mostly it’s just the brick walkways that didn’t have proper foundations, or we had a sinkhole in the Bowling Green – little things like that.

Part of our job now is to be vigilant about making sure we’re keeping an eye out while things are still under guarantee. And we’re trying to get galvanized to bring everything back to what it was or perhaps surpass it, because we were on a pretty good roll in terms of our overall enthusiasm for trying to be a real good show garden again. This threw a bit of a monkey wrench into things – it was ten months of “What the hell is going on around here?” I realize now it was probably necessary to do most of this, and sooner or later the pipes would have failed, and there’s no good time to do it. So now it’s done, and we’re just going to see.

We were able to plant a lot of new trees because of the project. We took the initiative to do that, and just kind of pushed for it, because we realized we were going to have some time, and we wanted to do that planting. The garden staff as a whole really got together and did a good mass planting, which I thought was a really fun and nice thing to do. I thought it was a really positive step. It was one of the things we got to do because of the project that I thought was a really positive thing. In a way it was kind of a pledge, saying, “Every fall and every spring we’re going to replant,” because we’ve hit that age mark in the garden where our matured trees are declining. And I’m sure this project did nothing to help them – it just doesn’t. Having a large scale digging operation does not favor mature trees.