Concord Cottage
In the beginning there was the grapevine. It wasn't just any grapevine; it was a Concord grapevine, bearer of Concord grapes—source of the Concord grape jelly that's been an ingredient in the PB&J sandwiches of generations of American kids. And the grapevine was planted up against a barn in Concord, Massachusetts, birthplace of the American Revolution. To be an emblem of American culture and its history—that's quite a burden for one little grapevine to bear.

Yet there it was, growing against the barn just 20 feet away from Jeff and Janet Bernard's house—the barn they wanted to move so they could expand their house. Would the grapevine survive once the barn that seemed to hold it up was relocated?

Survive it did, and it flourished, as it had for the 100 years or more since it had first been planted. The expanded house and its new back porch had a view of the grapevine, and from a comfy seat on the porch Jeff and Janet could see around it and out over the expansive back lawn that stretched to the park behind the house.

Until This Old House arrived, that is, to transform that old barn into the Concord Cottage, a cozy home for Janet's parents. The space between the back porch of the main house and the new cottage was destined to become a parking court to accommodate three of the four cars required by local code (a fourth car can be parked alongside the main house). The view from the back porch, once a long-range vista around the grapevine, was about to be completely obstructed. It was time to make some difficult decisions about the grapevine.

There were essentially three options: leave the grapevine where it was, move it to another location, or tear it out. Leaving it in place meant trying to design a 30-foot parking court around it. Relocating it involved a significant risk that the century-old vine wouldn't survive the move. And tearing it out meant, well, tearing it out.

"That would be too sad," says Jeff Bernard. "That grapevine is probably as old as the house, which was built in 1894. That's a pretty old vine, and it takes a long time for vines to mature. I don't know of anyone else in the neighborhood who has one. There have even been a couple of years when we've canned grapes and made our own jelly. I don't want to tear it out, but I don't want it to be in the way, so my optimal plan would be to move it."

Moving it was risky, though, due to the age of the vine and the depth of its roots. "I talked to horticulturalists about our options," says landscape architect Stephanie Hubbard. "They said the problem about moving it is that it just wouldn't survive — they gave it some ridiculously low chance of survival. So moving it wasn't in the cards."

"Some people told us to just tear it out," says Janet. "But that's not an option — that just wouldn't go over with my husband. [TOH landscape contractor] Roger Cook said if we tried to move it there was only a five percent chance it would survive. We could move part of it and start a new vine, but Jeff doesn't want a new vine, he wants that one."

Clearly the grapevine is as close to the Bernards' hearts as it is to their porch, so the options came down to one: leaving it exactly where it is now.

Normally, says Hubbard, she wouldn't advise a client to design a complete landscaping plan around a single plant. "It's usually not a good idea," she says, "because if you do it and then the plant croaks... well, I wouldn't encourage it."

In this case, though, Hubbard saw a way to make the grapevine work in the master plan, which calls for an integrated fence and trellis between the parking court and the grapevine. "The truth is, it will look great," she says. "It needed a good cutting back anyway, so we'll do it a favor by cutting it. Then we'll train it to grow the other way, in a direction that works better with the plan. We're adding some other vines for four-season interest, so they'll grow together and it will look great all year long."

Still, landscape contractor Roger Cook was taking no chances. He staked off around the grapevine to prevent an errant truck from taking it out, and he decided to propagate it, just in case. In a procedure called layering, he took a long, dangling runner from the plant, scratched it to create a wound on the vine, and buried it in a peat-moss-filled trench a few inches deep.

"The runner is still attached to the grapevine," he says, "and it gets all its nutrients from the main plant. But the wound will prompt it to put out rootlets and form a new plant that can be separated from the main grapevine next spring." Just in case.

"Basically, we're covering our butts," laughs Roger.

In the meantime, the old vine proved its worth again this year by offering up a lush crop of grapes. A friend of Janet's who stopped by one day to see the work in progress was enchanted by the vine and asked to pick some of the fruit. As it happens, the friend makes her own jelly, and the picking and jelly-making ended up as a segment on This Old House. (See A Family Tradition.)

Certainly not what someone had in mind when he planted that grapevine in the nineteenth century. But we're pretty sure whoever it was would be pleased to know the Bernards are taking care of it in the twenty-first.

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