Wednesday, January 23, 2008

French Drains and Rain

Some days I feel as though I'm channeling Pa Ingalls. I dig, I drag, I chop, and I harness the strength of those around me to assist me in my endeavours, be they hauling bricks for garden walls or hauling compost to other areas of the yard. In Pa's case, he used horses and oxen. In my case, I use my children. I'm not sure who had the easier working companion.

But I digress.

Every good day we've had lately I've been out in the back yard, getting it ready for spring planting. This yard has been neglected for a while, or perhaps the previous owners weren't as fervent about gardening as I am, so getting it ready requires a certain esprit de corps. I've been digging a vegetable garden using grass sod for walls, although I happened upon a hundred free bricks today that I buttressed the south-facing terrace with. I've also been building trellises (or is that trelli?) for runner beans and berries (marion and raspberries), putting in fruit trees (peach plum fig) and shrubs (today saw a brilliant bloodtwig dogwood go in), planting a herb garden, and pruning the horribly neglected apple trees.

In my opinion, we've been extremely lucky with this winter's weather here on the Wet Coast, although you will get a completely different answer if you ask my kids this question. But with all the rain I've noticed that even though we live on a hill, we are accumulating more rain than I expected to see in areas of the back yard. So now I'm trying to sort out the, err, bog out back. The bog next to where my new peach tree is. The bog that is really getting on my nerves, because it shouldn't be a bog. It should be a nicely drained area of the back yard. I suspect this is part and parcel of what one gets when one buys an old house. Drains overgrown with tree roots. Overgrown trees. Oddly pruned trees (I'm being charitable and restrained here). I won't get into the interior of this old house, because it's now but a distant memory, thankfully, but let's just say that it involved lots of orange shag, wallpaper borders (upon borders upon borders) and tinted mirrors.
But I digress.

Gardening is my thing, so I tend to focus on that. Just ask Richard, although he may roll his eyes a bit when answering you, because during the 5 weeks that we renovated I tended to escape outside at moments of intense drama, leaving him inside with those same moments of intense drama. My theory was that he was far more capable of dealing with those moments than I was. His theory was that I was more interested in gardening than I was in painting the 4 million walls I had to paint. He might have been right.

But I digress.

While this house has an ever-so-lovely and ever-so-big-for-a-city-lot yard that looks out onto a wild life lake, some sublime moonrise peaks, and more than a few unbelievably bucolic sunsets, there are two aspects to this yard that niggle slightly at me: first, it slopes, and second, the drains have been, err, compromised by some of the trees that were here. (note, O Ye of Grammatical Bent, my use of the past tense) The sloping aspect I dealt with by terracing the vegetable patch (thus my slogging brickwork). As for the tree invasion, I've remedied the situation slightly by removing a few trees (having a birch tree growing under the house foundation is not on Martha's List of Good Things, nor is it on mine) and heavily trimming others (an overgrown bank of Leyland cypresses and a chestnut that was attaching itself to the roof). Well, to be honest I didn't actually remove them myself. My friend Dave from Barking Up The Wrong Tree removed them, in one glorious and never to be forgotten (because it was so bizarre, even by my standards) afternoon. Let's just say that it involved some young men with chain saws and spurs and beer and lots of intriguing swearing. Oh, and let's not forget Dave. And me with my cheque book. And my children, delighted by the spectacle.

And now, several months on, I have discovered that removing a tree does not remove the damage said tree inflicted while growing, and so I note sadly that we seem to have sustained some perimeter drain injuries from that burrowing old birch. As a result, the last few days have seen me digging out root after root after root in an effort to see where the bog came from. And let me tell you, slogging around in gloopy, muddy bogs with a gloopy, muddy shovel is SO not my idea of fun. Fortunately my dad came arrived on the scene, with my lovely, newly built cold frame (thanks Dad), and told me that what I needed was a French drain. He even demonstrated how to make one, earning my admiration by standing in that gloopy, muddy grass and digging fiercely. So that's what I ended up doing. Making a French drain in the back yard. Already my peach tree is sighing in relief. Thanks Dad. And thank you, Mr Henry French (Harvard graduate). Whatever would I do without you?


Nicola said...

As one who has an aversion to gardening, except on a rare occasion, I am glad that my yard is currently lying under a few inches of snow and the top layer of soil is frozen. No need to think about gardening until at least April!

Becky at Farm School said...

What an adventure! I can only imagine what too much water would be like. Here our problem recently has been not enough, sigh. Of course, I can only dream about peach trees, too!

sheila said...

Nicola, I am beginning to see why I am such a pathetic knitter and you are such an incredible knitter.

My kids would kill for snow right now. They think you are way too lucky.

Becky, would you dare to eat a peach? I'll grow you one, if you promise to eat it!