Davenport gets new bushes

The Davenport courtyard received 52 new holly bushes early this week – thanks to landscaping problems that may date back to the college’s renovation.

The new bushes replaced ones that previously grew in the courtyard, which were removed because they were slowly dying in the over-irrigated soil. Alex Polino, the groundskeeper for Davenport, said the poor drainage that injured the bushes was partially the fault of contractors who left work unfinished after the 2005 Davenport renovations, but a landscape architect who was involved with the project said his firm, Towers Golde, addressed the problems in 2006. Davenport gardeners improved the drainage while planting the replacement hollies this week, and Head Gardener Joe Sciarini said the new bushes should stay healthy.

“Those bushes were in bad shape,” Sciarini said. “What we’re doing now is a permanent solution.”

The bushes suffered because they had been receiving too much water, due to buried debris and a faulty underground system that trapped water, Polino said. Among the rubble found under the soil last week were broken bricks and buried sprinkler heads, which should have been placed above the surface to water the grass. Polino said the heads might have been “weeping” water underground, which also could have contributed to the problem. He added that, in his experience, deadlines and time constraints sometimes cause construction workers to rush the landscaping aspects of a job, or leave them to last.

The problem may also have stemmed from the fact that the irrigation system uncovered last week used four drip-lines, rather than one, Polino said. Drip-lines are tubes buried under the soil that automatically water the plants, and too many of them may cause plant roots to rot.

“You could pour concrete, cover it with sod, and roll over it with a bulldozer and have it look great,” Sciarini said. “It’s all about what’s underneath.”

Channing Harris, a landscape architect who was contracted by architectural firm Kieran Timberlake to work on the Davenport renovations, said in an e-mail that the original irrigation system was designed and installed by a different firm in the 2003-’04 year. According to his records, he said, no drip-lines were installed at that time. He said it’s possible that the Yale grounds department made additional changes to the system since then.

In 2006, following construction, some areas of the lawn were not draining well, Harris said, and debris was found buried under the lawn. But it was excavated, removed, and replaced with good soil to improve the drainage, he said.

“It was my understanding this was fully addressed in 2006,” Harris said.

The grounds workers dug up the garbage, replaced the four drip-lines with a single drip-line and stirred up the biomat (short for bio-material) that comprises the lawn this week, they said. They also used organic techniques to break up compaction so that the drainage improves and the same problem doesn’t occur in the future. To expedite the removal of excess water, the workers attached the underground system to the storm drain.

The old holly bushes were recycled and re-planted in drier soil in front of the medical school, Polino said. He expects them to make a full recovery.

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