That’s how it felt last Wednesday morning, as the sewer repair crew arrived with their much-larger-than-expected excavator. (Though the excavator’s color did nicely echo the orange of the Mexican Sunflowers.)



The sewer line they had come to repair lies partly under the path to the front and partly under the Driveway Border, which is the very first border I installed after moving into our house. I felt like a parent whose beloved child was being wheeled into the operating room. And the doctor was going to operate with a gigantic orange excavator.


The crew had to dig a trench that was just 3 by about 8 feet. Only thing is, it had to go about 7 feet deep, so it generated a LOT of dirt.


The Front Garden is blessed with exceptionally deep topsoil, but go 18-24 inches down and you’ll find the subsoil is dense with clay. This surprised me for some reason, though it really shouldn’t have.


Here’s the trench. The light isn’t great, but you can kind of see here how deep the darker topsoil goes.


The sewer guys were not gardeners (one asked me if the daffodil bulbs he had uncovered were radishes, so maybe they weren’t cooks either), but they deserve credit for doing their best to minimize damage to the border. Before they came I had dug out the Nepeta, Culver’s Root, and some of the Wild Bergamot that looked to be in the way. We did have one serious loss: a mature Wild Blue Indigo. I’ll plant a replacement, not necessarily in the same place.


When they were done they filled the trench. It rained that night, and the next day the path to the front door was a gushy, gooey river of clay. As a temporary expedient, I threw down some plywood boards to make it passable.

This has nothing to do with the topic of this post, just a nice picture of a Bush’s Poppy Mallow bloom with some Bluestem Goldenrod.

Week after next another crew is coming to redo our driveway and front path, both of which are seriously falling to pieces. Once they are done I can start to repair the damage. There will be lots of new bulbs and some new perennials to plant, along with putting some other plants back where they had been.

So on the day after the eve of destruction it turned out things could have been a lot worse. Of course, we’ve still got a ways to go.

54 Comments on “Eve of Destruction

  1. I was out of town and missed it all! Due to storms in Chicago, my flight back from Austin arrived at O’Hare at 2:15am Saturday morning, and I slogged through the wet clay soup at 3am. Luckily, I had a very nice cab driver who put my suitcase on the porch and then advised me where to step so my feet didn’t sink in the muck – there were no boards at that point.

    It’s a little horrifying, to tell the truth. I’m looking forward to having it all put back together.

    I’m in Seattle next week – my schedule this fall is appalling, but I go to half-time November 1st. I’ll be home the week they install the new walk and driveway, and take a day off to watch and make sure they do it right.

    • Judy, you’re going to be in Seattle! Will you have time to see any gardens? Do you want recommendations from a local?

      • I wish! Nothing but work, work, work! Thanks for the offer!

  2. Wow, I’m so sorry about the destruction to your garden. But on the bright side you have an opportunity to put in some new plants. You truly are blessed with great soil. I’m in the western suburbs of Chicago in a 70 year old house and I have about 4-5” before I hit the dreaded clay!

  3. I’m sure your garden will be back to looking beautiful eventually, but in the meantime I can sympathise, it must be dreadful to see your planting ripped apart like that. New planting opportunities mean lots of lovely new plants, you will enjoy the planning, I’m sure!

  4. Looks like the damage was minimal – hope the driveway work goes just as smoothly. We are putting off our planned greenhouse as it needs a foundation… we just can’t bear the thought of an excavator in the yard!

  5. Now all that lovely topsoil is under the clay? That whole thing looks like a gardener’s worst nightmare; I hope that in the end it will be what you want it to be.

  6. I shudder thinking about the clay soil. It looks like it will be some time before you get your front garden put back to rights. I don’t envy you your job. It is so disheartening to have to do this. Good luck with your project. A good thing that Judy will be able to watch the reconstruction of your drive and walkway.

  7. The good thing about this type of situation is that it give you the opportunity to shuffle things around and add new plants (hurray!) – the proverbial silver lining 🙂

  8. Were you able to keep a straight face when asked if daff bulbs were radishes? Fall is certainly the best time to do these beastly projects. Spring 2020 will be beautiful in your front yard!

  9. Horrifying. Heart breaking. And of course an opportunity. Thankfully gardeners are optimistic souls: everything will look better then ever before long.

  10. Fortunately I have never had my yard torn up, but a couple of my neighbors have had sewer issues and had to deal with torn up front yards. Hope you get yours put back together in good time.

  11. I had a chortle over the radishes. We had a problem several years ago with our sewer connection to the street and it needed to be dug up right through our foundation bed, so I know the angst this causes. I hope it’s back together in no time.

  12. Clay isn’t all bad, take it from me, it is very fertile. Keep adding organic matter and you will have the best of both worlds! How’s that for gardener’s optimism?

  13. Oh, I feel your pain! When I was finally able to get city water here, I paid extra for directional drill so they did not have to dig up any garden beds. Before that, though, the well repair guy had to kind of run over one bed with his big truck to position the drill correctly. Next year the city is going to dig out swales and put in more storm sewer lines to improve drainage. I think the damage will miss my plantings – fingers crossed!

  14. It does all look and sound messy but thankfully no real damage was done. Fingers crossed stage two goes as well and you can then get your plants back

    • I will have to dig out clumps of clay that were dumped all around my ‘Cassie’ shrub rose. However, it doesn’t look like the border itself will have much clay deposited.

  15. Oh dear, that looks very messy! Here’s hoping this will mean a new beginning for some parts of the garden.

  16. Sorry for the loss of so much of what you have cultivated. But a great time to pull out the phrase “creative destruction.” Lots of destruction means lots of opportunity to be creative.

  17. I did laugh at the comment about the nice color coordination between the machinery and the Mexican sunflowers. At least you have that nice topsoil, too, instead of Houston’s infamous black gumbo clay; it holds water forever after heavy rains, is sticky when wet, and like cracked concrete when dry. We wish that on no one.

    It must have been hard to watch that process, even though you know that between your efforts and nature’s self-repair things will be better. As Jimmy Buffett puts it, every stop there’s a place to start.

  18. That has to be a gut punch in some respects .. but ? .. opportunity in others (to try and look n the bright side .. a bit ?) .. I know it would impact my disposition in a huge way .
    So maybe writing this out as a post put a little more perspective in your direction and planning for new bulbs and perennials is a bit of an uplifting aspect .. hopefully ?
    Best of luck and I am sure it will all turn out beautifully !

  19. That was one advantage to a lawn that I hated so much. When the sewer needed to be excavated, I was not bothered at all by the damage, and would not have minded if there had been more.

      • Well, I know that one too. When I lived in town, the neighbors on both sides had so-called ‘gardeners’ who weed whipped my grapevines on the fence (which were on my side). They also tried to ‘prune’ my oak tree on my side, and regularly stole my fruit.

      • It wold not matter. Crews get fired and hired with such regularity that after one crew is scared off the property, a new crew shows up.

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