When we making the final plans for our ‘retirement dream home’ three years ago, we put a fair amount of thought into water management and our environmental responsibilities. Our overriding goals were to a) keep water from our property out of the sewer system, b) preserve water for an extensive in-ground garden, and c) put as much water as possible into the wetlands we adjoined.
|The new stone culvert.|
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To that end, four rain barrels would capture roof runoff from the rear of the house before diverting the leftover water to underground pipes that let to the wetlands that form the back two-thirds of our property. We did our best to make all ‘hard’ surfaces permeable: our driveway was crushed stone rather than asphalt; even our patio was designed with open spaces for water to soak in. We agreed that gutters would spoil the look of a house and so we avoided them in front; opting instead for a two-foot-deep, rock-filled catch basin the stretched the length of the roof line.
We were left with one unaddressed problem area: a downspout from a gutter servicing the roof over our garage. For the first year we allowed water from the downspout to splash unmolested out into our stone driveway. It wasn’t a problem: rainwater easily perked through the rock and helped recharge our ground water. The problem was that it did nothing for the nearby garden plantings. We tried diverting the downspout to empty directly into a perennial bed. The force of the water promptly washed away the surrounding mulch. Houston, we have a problem.
|That's Magnolia 'Elizabeth' in front|
Fortunately, there is a civil engineer that resides deep with Betty’s soul. There is a stonemason that lives within mine. Betty yearns to harness Mother Nature’s energy. I love to move rocks.
And so was born the Great Culvert Project. On a crisp early October day, I dug a winding trench: 25 feet long, a foot deep, and a foot wide. A masterpiece of design, it skirts the root systems of three clethras, a peony, and large amsonia ‘Blue Star’. It terminates at the root line of a yellow-blooming magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ and the opening stretch of a ‘river’ of geraniums. Next spring, everything in its course will bloom like a New England Eden.
Oh, and some rocks would be a nice idea. simple math from the above description says I removed 25 cubic feet of soil. All that was left to do was to direct the drain pipe into the culvert and add some rocks to keep the walls of the culvert from gradually caving in. Allowing that the goal was to have water flowing through the culvert, we likely needed a total of maybe 20 cubic feet of rock.
|The culvert connects into|
a river of geraniums
Where to get rock? Normal people go to places where various sizes of rock is sold. There is even one such place right here in Medfield. You drive up and someone loads up your car or truck. You take it home, get the job done in a day, and retire to the back porch for a gin and tonic. We are not normal people (except for the gin and tonic). Buying rocks is abhorrent to our nature. Rock, like music, wants to be free.
Instead, we began scrounging rock from around our property, then from the Community Garden where we have a plot, and finally from (what we think is) a town-owned area where piles of rock mysteriously get deposited on a regular basis. Over two weekends we filled tubs with large rough rocks for the bottom of the culvert, small smooth rocks to top the culvert, and flat stones to form the riverbank.
Our problem was that after filling six, five-cubic-foot tubs, we were less than half finished with the project. Why would it take more rocks to fill the culvert than the volume of soil we removed? OK, the ‘riverbank’ might account for some of the overage, but this was getting ridiculous. In the end it took twelve tubs and five trips. Why, I haven’t the faintest idea.
We finished the project over the weekend. A lot of Advil was consumed in the process. Was it all worth it? Of course. How often do you have the opportunity to build your own river?