Drainage – In Landscapes and Gardens – Part I

What do we mean by this term? What is drainage, a term we see referred to often but which many don’t entirely comprehend?

Simply put, the term “drainage” refers to the dealing with any water that makes it onto our land. Now this could be irrigation water, rain water, snow or even accidental flooding from such things as broken water pipes or problems from neighbors which no one ever forsaw. I have pointed out such a problem in an earlier post, where the dimensions of problems a neighbor supplied were large enough to imperil an entire 5 acre project.

In the picture above, we see the extent to which we attend to drainage issues. All the larger white and black pipes collect water from the patio we will install above it. (The other pipes are either irrigation lines or electrical conduits).  Some function to collect (the white pipe which will be the ends of a “Channel Drain” system we put in the middle of the patio) and some merely to conduct (the black pipe) water down and away to an appropriate spot where it goes into the street out front. The white extensions – capped in the picture below – closest to the house are for the eventual gutters, which will also conduct water from the roof into the same black pipes.

Here then, after installing the pavers, is what this patio looked like:

Generally speaking, the current law of the land is that each home and property is responsible for their own water. What this implies is that the property owner is liable for any damage resulting from the run-off from his property which affects a neighboring property. This is typically the focus of the law. The bottom line for designers and installers such as myself is to find some way of conducting the water to a catch basin or storm sewer so that the entirety of our problems are thus “internal” if at all. Almost all properties provide for this at the time of sale. It may be that they supply a 1% grade via a “swale” or a “scooped out” trench, but that is then what you have. The fact is, it is enough, although extremely exacting for professionals. Flat lands still need to be drained because even they get rained on. If a substantial amount of runoff ends up piled around the basement window of a neighbor and there is tell-tale evidence it came from your land, then you will at best share liability for any damages from the basement flooding.

Another very fundamental feature of drainage is to keep the water away from your home – your investment. We always slope the ground away from the house. This is an absolute “given”. It also applies when constructing any patio, sidewalk, gazebo or any number of other projects, all of which must provide for what we call “positive drainage” away from the house itself. There is no reason really to explain why. So what then? How do we do it?

What I have always liked doing – where possible – was to create a small creek bed, suitable for not only conducting collected water to a destination, but also to actually capture it. In the picture above the house is actually quite close on the left hand side of this picture. This small creek bed thus circles the home, with the ground sloped to appropriately collect and take away water from rain and perhaps the overflowing water feature shown in the background, if its automatic filling system somehow screwed up……..(it happens, lol. 😉 )  Or also, say, if a valve sticks in the irrigation system and the water just doesn’t stop. Measures like these can prevent small disasters from becoming something worse. Here – let’s follow this creek bed around: (This, below, is a view taken farther out back by the fence which shows how we also supplied drainage, not just next to and around the house, but also from the very rear of the property forward, out to the street. Notice the creek on the left. It joins with the creek in the above picture (shown by the shed where the picture was taken) for its journey to respectability.) It’s actually gotten nicely overgrown, hiding this feature more, but it is visible beneath the branches.

Here then is a view from the very distant fence in the second shot, hard by the front yard, looking back. The creek also picks up water from the gutter system as well, thus the crossing creek beds, also joining the main player, in the shade to the right bottom:

And here is where it all goes away:

Those small creek beds were a dynamite solution to an occasional but very serious problem. As dry as Reno may seem, it does indeed collect some dreadful amounts of rain and snow. It mmight have only gotten 7 inches a year of rainfall, but I swear it all came at once.

6 thoughts on “Drainage – In Landscapes and Gardens – Part I

  1. Hey, Annette, good to see you! Annette is my “mentor lady” who also had much to do with the formation of this very site and who helps immeasurably with computer matters. She is an amateur gardener, having just put in her first grass lawn! Oops, I meant she is now a professional. She is a native Israeli with a sense of humor and a wonderful family which she brags about – among other things – in her blog. This is good people.

  2. People may consider drainage boring and don´t give it much thought when landscaping. I have seen a few gardens erode after a heavy downpour and I see DIY retaining walls give in many places. As you point out poor drainage can affect the health of a house and even the health of people living in it. Mold is not healthy. A heavy downpour really tests whether the basic of landscaping has been done properly. I have seen lawns, paths and flowerbeds turning into big poodles of standing water because “people” forgot to check the runoff inclanation and use a spirit level. Patios flooded where the water ran into the house – instead of away from the house – there goes the carpets, furniture and the basement!
    This really shows that the assistance of a good land – and hardscaper is essential, before fancy garden designers like me do the “Icing of the cake”. No matter how nice the icing looks – if the foundation is poor, people are are going to get problems if they don´t use a licensed landscaper.
    I look forward catching up on reading your great landscaping articles, I have missed while being out of the loop for some months. Luckily it is winter here and I don´t get busy until the end of March and in April, when people start calling for professional help. I also need to take the course at the horticultural college to get the license to use herbicides and fungicides. In the fall I plan on taking a hardscaping module. Another module I need is trees and conifers. I also need to learn to set up different irrigation systems – more and more clients want these, but it is not something we have used much over here before, since we get plenty of rain all year round. Irrigation systems also demand good drainage – should the water pipes burst! In USA I see many different irrigations systems – I also see them flooding parking lots and sidewalks! One of the problems over here is that they have to be able to withstand possible temperatures down to -20F in some winters. So I have plenty to learn yet.
    Thanks for stopping by while I was laying low for a while. It really made me happy Steve.

  3. Niels, stopping by your place is always a personal treat. Naturally, I was hoping you’d come back strong as you obviously are now. I can’t tell you how good it is to see you on a better personal footing. Tragedy is so hard to deal with for us all but it is also a part of our human existence, in the end. In that, we find ourselves with far more in common than we ever believed. Thanks a lot for dropping in, dude. It is wonderful to see you again.

  4. Thank you for pointing me to this informative piece on drainage. I had forgotten to use the search module and that allowed me to find it. Water is beautiful but powerful. It can bring joy to our lives, but cause destruction if not properly channeled. It is good to be reminded that we are responsible for keeping our water from our neighbors property. The thought of turning a drain into a natural thing of beauty is an exciting idea.

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