My family lives in an old house. It has many “old house issues”, including every time there is a decent rainstorm, we get water in the basement. The solution was to build a drainage trench to get the gutter discharge water away from the house. So, before approaching a drainage specialist for the project, I asked my wife for a family-budget-discussion. “WHAT DRAINAGE BUDGET?!?!” she fired back, instantly shutting down that option.
Luckily, like most of us, I am passionate about landscaping and realized this was going to be my responsibility. Given COVID meant my family couldn’t really go anywhere in 2020, I decided to use my evenings and weekends to make friends with my pick and shovel to complete this major project. Quickly my ambitions grew beyond building a boring and ugly drain. Instead, I turned this utilitarian need into a creative opportunity to make a sunken rock and shade garden.
I started excavating down about five feet. The biggest challenge was my shovel hitting old bricks and rocks every time I dug. This was an intensely muscle jarring process.
Bag by bag of cement, sometimes 20 bags in an afternoon, I poured a rebar re-enforced footing and 6-inch walls.
I then continued to excavate under the pathway and down the hill about another 50 feet, connecting to a dry well (hidden in the front yard). Buried under these white drains is a french drain, key for draining water pooling under the footing. Then the lower white pipe carries away the ambient runoff water. The top drain pipe carries the main gutter discharge.
I rendered the existing brick with cement and waterproofed it all using Drylock. The slate capstone was not done by me - installed by a local stonemason.
This shows the gutter water basin and discharges pipe. I filled stone bags with the broken bricks and rock I had dug up. These were then used as important fill for the drain – excellent for drainage and easily removable if we ever need to make a repair.
Once the drain was mostly filled with bagged larger rocks and old bricks, I added Mexican Beach pebble (that I love), borrowing this inspiration from the front door of John Mini’s Headquarters. I also used some old pots and planted shade-loving perennials and ferns.
This was a project of sweat equity and passion. While it was really hard physical work, the combination of labor and creativity was a great stress relief from the pressures and unknowns on COVID. I thoroughly enjoyed this project, found it meditative, and it helped me find solutions for the upcoming Holiday season I direct at John Mini. So far, thankfully, this drain works well, and our basement is bone dry. Now that it is Spring, I am excited to get this shade garden going again. I am hoping it has a little more appeal than just a drain. #Born to Enchant
Ben Cheah, Director of Holiday