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Adventures in a New Wet Landscape

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By Kathy Tashie

Master Gardener℠ volunteer in Chatham County

We purchased our home in Chapel Hill seven months ago and left our eight-acre lake home to live closer to our son and his family. I miss the incessant honking of geese, flights of a pair of bald eagles, the woods, the deer, wild turkey, the quiet…but sadly not the water itself; our ‘new’ home has graced us with an overabundance of such, though not as serene and bucolic as before.

We knew when we bought our home a lot of work would be needed for this professionally landscaped, but severely neglected yard. As a hopeful gardener, I could envision a future with winding garden paths leading to isolated sanctuaries where I can garden or read while my grandsons fight dragons and evil sorcerers.

Our backyard has curving stone steps leading to an Asian-style deck with a pergola. Even left unattended and overgrown the yard is promising. It holds wildlife-supporting nuts and berries, a stone walk lined with moss, a lush fern-lined natural creek, gravel paths between beds of ground covers, and showcase plants. It also has a moss garden with a bench and vine-covered pergola, a three-tiered water fountain, and a white multi-room birdhouse with a green roof that is perched (pun intended) on a wooden pole in the middle of the yard. The property continues past the creek another hundred feet or so up a slight hill to a power-line field where the trees are so thick that even in winter it’s hard to make out the shape of the power tower. No backyard neighbors.

My enthusiastic plans of tackling such a yard have been greatly slowed by COVID-19, the rains, and the inability to find knowledgeable labor. Though when it comes to the yard my husband’s fists don’t actually have moths flying out when unclenched, the money for our house’s needs has had to come first; toilets re-tuned, electrical outlets rewired, furniture purchased, etc.

Now let me state, thankfully, that our physical home has no water problem. It’s high and dry, but we live at the bottom of a steep hill and with all this rain we’ve been experiencing this fall/winter our promising yard has turned into a bog.

tree marked for removal

We first noticed wetness in our basement and deduced it was caused by the front porch gutters overflowing, so we had the gutters cleaned, guards installed, and put in a French drain. This didn’t stop the damage so after consulting three landscapers we finally hired a drainage ‘expert’ who discovered that the five downspouts in the front of the house were all connected and had only one exit. This caused the overflowing of drains. So we had an additional French drain installed and extended the drain lines to the edge of our property.

new drainage area

Now that the front yard downspouts are working more water pours into our already saturated back yard so we installed dry river beds and a berm was erected to divert water. A large stump with octopus roots was collecting water and breeding mosquitoes so it was removed leaving behind a 6′-wide deep depression that continues to fill with water.

In this same area of the backyard, we have eight sweet gum trees that are scheduled to be removed … once the backyard dries out…..fingers crossed! After the trees are down we’ll have our fourth drainage expert grade our back yard, bring in topsoil, extend downspout drains closer to the existing creek and install dry river beds.

So here is where we’ve thrown loads of money as of February 28: gutter guards installed, two french drains (one working the other to be reworked), one useless berm, downspouts reconfigured in the front yard, drains extended to the edge of the yard, one large tree stump removed, several dead trees taken down and finally new landscape plans drawn. As of today, we are hopeful that we finally have the right people to do the work needed and can soon begin the next phase in our yard: implementing the vision of our backyard haven.

Please, wish us luck. We’ll need it.