Front yard after the flood in May 2009
In the beginning…there was the flood.
In December 2008, while I was still working in SoCal, my father called me to report that his basement was flooding.
‘But Dad’, I pointed out, ‘you live on an island!’
The Skokomish had overflowed (no surprise there), along with the Stilly, the Skookumchuck, the Chehalis, and just about ever major river in Western Washington. But my father’s rocky little island has no perennial waterbodies, and the house that my father had custom-built had stood since 1975 without a single hydrologic mishap.
It turns out, in short, that one of the wetlands that my father had sold when he divided the original 40 had aimed its outlet at his house and shot water down over the drive and into the basement of his three bedroom home.
‘So, we had to dig up the front yard to find the source’. It was not obvious at first that the water which bubbled up through cracks in the cement floor was caused by overland flow which had seeped back into the ground just above the house, found a layer of clay, and re-emerged in the basement.
Landscaping lesson 1: South Puget is blanketed by glacial till, comprised of alternating layers of sand and clay, and the islands are but glacial morains (read: rock piles) parked there by the snout of the Pleistocene glaciers. Hardpan, the locals call it. It makes siting septic systems tricky. It also accounts for Pierce County’s many wetlands, one of which occupies the center of my father’s land.
My father eventually solved the problem by digging a ditch above the house to capture the additional flow. The yard, however, was part of the price. In his efforts to find the leak, my father used his personal excavator to pull the dirt back from the foundation. In January 2009, it was a clayey mess too heavy to shovel. By May, the weeds had taken over, and the beautiful cement pavers that formed a path to the front door were cracked and overgrown.
My sorrow lasted only through the first look, and it took only a few short days before I acknowledged the benefits of having a ‘tabla rasa’ with which to start. Gone were the nasty shrubs that had crept up to the windows, and the walkway that had led hapless visitors from nowhere to door. I sunk my little shovel into the heaps of clay that mounded the weed-stricken yard and my adventure began.
I’ve been thinking about the design for this area of yard for months. I’ve yet to practice my graphics skills by actually sketching it out, but I had already plotted it in my head and on sheets of meeting minutes from the last few months of my job. Between January and May, I had the solved drainage problems and selected a design: NW natives under the cedar tree to the left, and a perennial garden to the right. The path would be rerouted towards the gazebo (the YELLOW gazebo, but that too will change) and the patio surrounded by containers to create a more insular effect for a barbecue area. My landscape design book from Amazon prepped me to view the yard and its spaces as extensions of the house. I considered how we would use the yard, the way in which we would enjoy its spaces. The grass was narrowed down to a strip that would accompany the new walkway to the front door. Benches in the gazebo would allow casual viewing, and the driveway would be screened by plants.
By the time I had arrived, I ready to implement my plan. Unfortunately, my body wasn’t so accomodating.