Renovation and Renewal – Prioritizing, Regrets and Successes

When I applied for a home equity line of credit back in February, I had certain things in mind that I wanted to do with the money. Unfortunately, due to falling property values in my area, I couldn’t get as much (or as good an interest rate) as I had hoped for, but it still gave me enough to tackle many projects that otherwise couldn’t get done.

The immediate things on my mind were:

What a MESS!

What a MESS! – March 2012

  1. Get the dock repaired (the estimate I already had was $4,500).
  2. Pay the $2,000 charge for emergency tree work in March.
  3. Renovate the unusable sloping garden (cost unknown).
  4. Have extra work done during annual tree maintenance.
  5. Completely redo the island bed (would require hiring help).
  6. Get new lighting in the kitchen, along with some other electrical upgrades.
  7. Have my office painted (already had the paint).

Added to the list soon after:

  1. Have the privacy fence power-washed.
  2. Have the house painted (I’d wanted to do this ever since I had to get a new roof the year before).
  3. Have the driveway resurfaced/sealed.

Notice that “buy new plants” was NOT on the list. I had NO place to put them until the slope bed was redone, the island bed was cleared of weeds (especially quackgrass, perennial sowthistle and trumpet vine), and the other gardens were cleaned out of weeds and unwanted plants.

Next, though, I had to prioritize. The tree work was critical, so that went to the top of the list. Electrical upgrades were something I had wanted done for years, so that came second. Third was the sloping garden, and fourth, the island bed.

I had thought the driveway work would be inexpensive, but when I spoke to the contractor, he advised me to have a whole new driveway put in. I could see his point. The driveway was a disaster. I couldn’t afford to have both sides done, though, so we agreed that the side that goes into the garage would be replaced this year, and the other half just sealed, with the goal of replacing that part next year. So this turned out to be a very costly job, though well worth it.

Part of excavated bed with remaining weeds

Part of excavated bed with remaining weeds

The island bed was also a very important job. It’s one of the most visible gardens on the property, and it was a mess. And I added power washing the fence because it was evident how much that was needed.


The new list, then, was:

  1. Pay the $2000 for emergency tree work already done.
  2. Annual tree maintenance, including extra items like removing the staghorn sumac.
  3. Electrical work.
  4. Completely renovate sloping garden (included moving 2 trees and 2 shrubs). This required hiring a landscaper.
  5. Almost completely renovate island bed (a few plants would stay). This required hiring assistance.
  6. Replace ½ of driveway.
  7. Get fence power washed.

Seven out of 10 original items. Very soon after, painting the office and painting the house were added to the list, along with painting the fence, which hadn’t been on the original list. Now I was up to 10 out of 11. Then I remembered (and I don’t know why it took me so long) that I really wanted and needed a sprinkler system.

The dock had been first on my list. The job was dear to my heart. But it was one of the most expensive items, and wasn’t critical, except for that fact that the estimate was only good till October. The sprinkler system should have had higher priority, but it, too, was an extremely expensive job (the estimates I got a few years ago, before I got seriously ill, were both for $3,800, so would likely be higher now). Still, I think I made a mistake not pushing that up the list.

With deep regret I decided the dock would have to wait till next year.

Joey Digging Out the Irises

Joey Digging Out the Irises

I got a deal from Angie’s List on the electrical contractor, which helped. I hired my son to help with the heavy garden work, and my daughter to paint the office, house and fence. There was some extra cost involved, because I also had to buy them both plane tickets, but I consider that money well spent, since it meant (a) they would get paid, rather than some strangers, and (b) I’d get to spend time with them!

I also spent about $1,500 on miscellaneous items like a new shower curtain, a much nicer set of drapes to cover my office closet (the doors had been removed to make the interior more accessible), painting supplies, organization items for the bathroom vanity and medicine cabinet, etc.

Then the urge to buy some new plants overwhelmed me. (Bad Marcia!) I spent $1,000 on plants.

An unexpected expense popped up when I needed to buy a new car, but this, too, was well worth it.

The first section of the dock had entirely fallen.

The first section of the dock had entirely fallen.

But every time I looked out the back, or went out in the back yard, there was the wreck of a dock staring me in the face. Finally I couldn’t bear it any more. In July I accepted the estimate and scheduled the work to be done.

My home equity line of credit was for $28,000. Once all the work was done and all the purchases made, I had spent $25,350 of that. (Actually, that total includes $110 still not spent. The second half of the driveway can’t be sealed until a huge mound of hardwood mulch is moved off it, and I haven’t had time to do that.)

In the end, only two items not on my final priority list were done: putting in a new dock, and purchasing plants. But those two added alone added up to $5,150 (I got a bit of a discount on the dock). Now there isn’t enough money left to put in a sprinkler system.

Do I have regrets? Many.

  • I wish I hadn’t bought the plants: many of them are STILL not in the ground.
  • I wish I had not bought the weeping pussy willow tree last year, because I loathe it and it will have to be moved unless I can prune it to a shape I can live with.
  • I wish very much that I’d hired a different landscaper for the slope garden, because they did a poor job, used non-sterile topsoil, and screwed up the steps so badly that I had to hire another landscaper to redo the installation.
  • And I wish I’d worked harder. Yes, I worked hard, but it wasn’t enough. Now it’s the hottest part of the summer and weeds are taking over the three largest beds, including the sloping garden where the application of Preen didn’t help at all.

And I wish I weren’t focusing so damn much on the regrets, on the things still undone.

Look what’s been accomplished! The slope garden now has flourishing plants (along with the weeds). Just for example, I have a ‘Sea Foam’ artemisia that has been in this bed now for 3 years. The first two years it barely grew at all. Now it’s gorgeous.

In addition:

  • ‘Crimson Pirate’ daylilies have been in this garden for 4 years and never bloomed before, but this year they did.
  • The shrubs and trees that were moved now have strong impact in their new positions, whereas before the trees were insignificant in their positions and the shrubs looked entirely out of place.
  • I’ve managed to kill most of the invasive cup plants, giving me new space to plant a shady garden next year.
  • The island bed is nearly weed-free.
  • The sumac tree is gone, and I’ve made a lot of progress killing the suckers.

And my house looks gorgeous with its new paint. My office is beautiful with its robin’s egg blue walls and silky pale gold figured drapes over the closet.

Yes, there are still some serious problems, but the successes are wonderful.

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