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Garden Logic: When Bad News Is Good News

November 11, 2009

Regular readers of this blog already know about my recent septic system problems (It’s Always Something). When the gentleman who pumped out the septic tank broke the news to me, he explained that there were two possible causes for the tank not draining properly. If I were lucky, I would get the good news that the problem was simply a clogged pipe from the tank to the distribution box and this would involve the relatively small expense and disruption of digging up and replacing the pipe. But, he warned, I might get the bad news that the leach field was no longer working properly; and this would involve the much greater expense and disruption of digging up and replacing the entire leach field.Non-garden area that will be excavated for new leach field (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

The gardeners reading this will not be surprised that my view of good news and bad news was different from that of the septic tank servicer. Replacing the pipe might not be expensive or require much digging, but that excavation would include at least one flower bed (maybe two) and a big section of my back walkway.  While replacing the leach field would be much more expensive and involve digging a much larger area, that area is all outside the current boundaries of my garden. I don’t think I’m the only gardener who would rather spend a big chunk of money than have to dig up flower beds and hardscape that took years to create!

Excavated distribution box - just outside edge of fence border (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)I have now received the bad/good news. When the excavation contractor dug up the distribution box (which amazingly turned out to be located just outside the fence border), he found the “bad news” problem that the leach field is exhausted and will have to be replaced. Yesterday, the septic designer came, laid out the “footprint” for the new leach field, and declared that the tank and pipe would not have to be replaced. I was elated to hear that the solution to my septic system problems will be expensive but minimally disruptive to my garden! As an added bonus, the new leach field is being designed with a larger capacity to accommodate a new master bedroom and bath that I’ve been wanting to add.

Although the area to be excavated is outside my existing garden, providing access to that area will necessitate some garden disruption. A 6’ section of garden fence (closest to the distribution box and leach field) has had to come down for now, and some shrubs that separate the clothesline area from the area for the leach field will have to be moved temporarily. As an added precaution, I’ve removed all the plants I just planted in the fence border a few weeks ago to a temporary location on the other side of the house to keep them out of harm’s way.

As I report this good (according to my garden logic) news, I also want to take the opportunity to thank all the Blotanical friends whose support helped get me through the past week. I was amazed by the outpouring of sympathy and encouragement in response to my earlier post. Anna’s expression of sympathy made me feel less alone with this problem; Nell injected some much-needed humor into the situation; Deborah and Ellen commiserated by sharing some of their own “It’s Always Something” experiences; Praveshree, Grace, Amy and Teresa offered calming philosophical perspectives and Stopwatch Gardener even recommended a book for times like this. Several blogging friends complimented me on my walkway (Deborah, Grafixmuse, Rosey, Stopwatch Gardener) or my attitude (Noelle, Grace), and some (Mary Delle, Teza, Jim, Sylvana) offered hope that this disruption would provide the impetus for creating an even more inspired garden. Many years ago, someone gave me a plaque with the words “Friendship doubles our joy and divides our sorrow.” By that standard, Blotanical has proved itself a community of true friends. Thank you all!

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. thevioletfern permalink
    November 11, 2009 1:00 pm

    Congratulations on your “bad” (good) news! Your walkway and garden is beautiful. I have found that things always work out somehow. And now you can add that new master suite without worry … and maybe just extend that garden a little since it will be all dug up anyway?

  2. November 11, 2009 1:41 pm

    Hello Jean,

    I am happy that most of the news if good. I understand completely how you feel about having to disrupt your garden and I am glad you won’t have too.

  3. November 11, 2009 8:01 pm

    I understand and agree with the logic. Being a city boy, I don’t have any first hand experience with septic tanks and leech fields. Can you plant a flowering ground cover over the leech field? I’m happy it turned out for the best.

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      November 11, 2009 8:22 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion, Jim. Basically, in this kind of septic system, household plumbing waste flows into a concrete tank where the solids sink to the bottom and are decomposed by anaerobic bacteria and the liquids (mostly grey water from showers, dishwashing, laundry, etc.) flow out the top to the leach field, which is a network of perforated pipes resting under the soil and on top of a bed of stone and gravel. The stone and gravel filters and purifies the liquid as it flows downward. I can grow shallow rooted plants on top of the system, but you don’t want anything that will send down roots that might get into those perforated pipes and clog them up. So, yes, a flowering ground cover is definitely a possibility. It’s a big area (700 sq. ft.) and I’d need to improve the soil first, so it’s not a high priority. If I leave it to its own devices, it will grow moss, which is what was there before it was dug up. But it might be fun to introduce some of my Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ and let it spread in that area.

  4. November 11, 2009 9:31 pm

    Well, I know I am happy for you, as my mother would say “It’s only money!” (I think, she thought money grew on trees). The time invested in your garden you will never be able to replace.
    Do you already have your red star for writing a Blotanical post? If you don’t this one is a winner!
    Deborah

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      November 11, 2009 9:50 pm

      Thanks, Deborah. As I get older, I realize that I’m not going to be able to do this kind of hard physical labor (double digging, handling heavy paving stones, and hauling around 50 lb. bags of sand) forever, so the number of years I’ve invested in this part of the garden is more precious to me than money.

      I’ve already got my red star, but maybe I can get Stuart to give me a second one! :-)

  5. November 11, 2009 9:58 pm

    Jean, I am sooo glad for your good-bad news. What a relief this must be for you. Hurrah!!

  6. November 12, 2009 4:55 am

    Thanks for updating us Jean. What a shame that this is going to be a costly undertaking but it must be a relief that it will not involve major disruption to your garden. A new master bedroom too – every cloud has a silver lining :)

  7. November 12, 2009 11:00 am

    Congratulations on the good newsiness. Yes, it’s only money. If it were me, after the weeping ceased, I’d be planning that tapestry garden on top of the system. It could be like a roof garden, without a roof.

  8. November 12, 2009 2:49 pm

    So the bad news is good news really! – less garden disturbance and the possibility of an extra bathroom.

  9. November 12, 2009 4:44 pm

    I am smiling as I read your post – such good news, and I think only a gardener can sympathise with your joy at the expensive option! Aren’t you kind to mention everyone by name…Blotanical really is great for finding people who feel your gardening pain as well as share the happier times.

  10. November 13, 2009 11:18 pm

    That is fantastic news! I’m so happy for you. Some things are more important than money, that it for sure!

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      November 14, 2009 12:12 am

      Thanks everyone. The work is all done and I am now the owner of a shiny new septic system. I plan to celebrate tomorrow morning by taking a long, luxurious shower. Then I’ll go out and take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to replant the fence border. I now have a septic system that will handle my planned addition of a master bedroom and bath, and I have a good excavator who would be happy to work on that project. In addition, the work changed the look of the back of my property in a way that opens up new possibilities for future garden projects.

  11. November 15, 2009 3:08 pm

    Ah yes, a true gardener, Jean! The glass is half full and new possibilities abound. I’m glad this massive project is finished and you can look ahead to a bountiful gardening season. How is your mom doing? Hopefully June and July won’t be “lost” next year.

  12. November 15, 2009 8:56 pm

    I am glad it worked out for the better! I enjoyed reading your post. :)

Trackbacks

  1. The Stopwatch Gardener » Blog Archive » Who wants a garden rosette?
  2. My Not-So-Secret Garden « Jean's Garden

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