The NBN and me

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Part of the trench dug to lay the cable

What does the NBN have to do with gardening, you might well ask? I certainly never connected the two until about a month ago, when the NBN men, mattocks at the ready, arrived on our doorstep one day to inform us that they were about to dig up our long battleaxe driveway and some garden beds in order to lay the copper wire that was going to connect us to the National Broadband Network! Our site had been assessed by seven other teams, apparently, and classified as 'too hard'. The eighth team was the one that did those difficult sites. I turned ashen-faced as they pointed out the garden areas that were about to be destroyed. Some of my prize plants were right in the pathway of the proposed trench, which had to be about 30 cm wide, even though the conduit for the cable was itself quite narrow.

Several specimens of Salvia Mesa Azure had to be dug up

'Don't worry about those plants: we will dig them up and replant them!', they cheerfully assured me. However, on seeing their first effort at doing this: plants roughly dug up with little soil around the roots and cast aside in the sun (presumably for the duration of the digging, which ended up taking two full days), I grimly grabbed my spade, a bag of potting mix and some large pots and feverishly began to dig up the plants that were in the firing line.

My clump of Eucharis lilies had to be dug up

It's not easy to remember all the usual recommendations for moving plants, when under pressure. It was totally the wrong time of year to be doing this, for a start: a hot day in early summer. I normally wouldn't dream of moving plants except in autumn or winter. But I just couldn't let them die at the hands of these seemingly merciless men, who seemed to just regard them all as 'green stuff' that was in the way. The plants included a lovely pink hibiscus, grown from a stolen cutting, which was just starting to fill out into a proper shrub; a couple of compact Salvia 'Mesa Azure' that had just started to bloom; an unusual rose-coloured Abutilon from a friend's garden, which had just appeared as a self-seedling there; my precious Eucharis lilies that had finally begun to come good after I decided to plant them in the ground rather than keep them in a pot; some bromeliads; and a number of lovely rhizomatous Begonia, still in full flower.

The strategy I settled on was to take as much of the root ball as I possibly could of each plant, having watered them first, and placing them into decent-sized pots with good potting mix. Alas, I soon ran out of both these things and ended up shoving my poor plants into any old receptacle I could find, including polystyrene fruit boxes, large plastic storage containers that I normally use for striking cuttings, and finally, in desperation, sturdy plastic bags - and having to resort to homemade compost for the potting medium.

My hibiscus shrouded in a vacuum-seal bag

I made sure I watered each plant thoroughly, adding Seasol to the watering can. I also sprayed the leaves with a very dilute mixture of Seasol and water. To try to maintain humidity around the plants, I placed the smaller pots in some of my other larger plastic containers used for cuttings, and closed the lids. For the bigger plants, I covered them with old plastic dry-cleaning bags or the large vacuum-seal bags used for storing blankets and so on indoors. All the plants were kept in the shade.

The plants looked extremely limp at the time of all these frantic operations. I didn't hold out much hope for any of them, and festered with rage at the whole situation. We didn't even want the NBN!!! However, as the days passed, the plants started to recover their perkiness. I continued vigilantly to water and spray with a Seasol mixture each day. The smaller plants naturally recovered quicker than the bigger shrubs, which I assumed I would lose. I eventually removed the pots from the big storage boxes, having gradually exposed them to more air by moving the lids of the containers aside (and in the case of the larger shrubs, slowly removed the plastic coverings). All have survived, which goes to show that if you ever have a situation like this, it is certainly worth trying to save your plants. Most people won't have these traumas with the NBN, as it was the length of our driveway and our lack of a pre-existing cable TV connection that were the reasons for the whole exercise. And I did feel really sorry for the poor men having to dig the trench all that way, mostly by hand, with mattocks! To their credit, they did their best to skirt around the plants that remained in the garden beds.

An unexpected benefit of the whole saga has been that I was able to rethink the placement of the plants removed (having to avoid where the cable was laid, in any case) and, in the end, they have better spots now, with more room around them - and nicely dug soil, courtesy of the men with their mattocks! A final plus was that one of the men left his safety glasses behind, and since he never came back to claim them, I now have an excellent set of goggles to protect my eyes when knocking those rotten stink bugs off my citrus trees into a bucket of water!