(Update to Drainage Issue) Landscape Ideas

OnAHillsideMarch 1, 2014

It's been a journey to get to this point, but we are finally ready to landscape our backyard. I came to the forum last year with a drainage issue in our back yard. After months of figuring out the problem piece by piece, asking lots of questions, taking lots of measurements, and finally hiring someone to do the big dig.... we have a fully functioning backyard (at least from a drainage perspective).

Take a look at the link below if you care for the backstory (warning - its a long read). As far as the swale goes, it is working just like we discussed in the below thread. A month ago we had a rainstorm that caused flash floods in the area. The pipe crossing under our driveway could not handle the flow and the flash flood came over the banks of the ditch and right down our driveway to the backyard. This all happened during the middle of the night, so I didn't get a chance to watch. When I woke up, the backyard looked like normal after a rain. The only sign that a significant amount of water had come through was all of the dirt, pinestraw, and sticks covering our driveway and patio. Further downhill from the swale, the flow of water overran the neighbors driveway leaving a large trail of debris. It was obvious that a large amount of water came through the swale, but the backyard was no worse for the wear.

I just wanted to share a success story before I got to the point... Now that the backyard is draining in normal situations and in flood situations (as designed). We are ready to design the long term landscape of the backyard. A couple of key features we want are 1. a grassy area for kids and the dog to enjoy. 2. A garden area at then far end of the backyard (the only sunny spot out of the shadow of the house). 3. Landscaping that makes it feel like the entire back yard is in the middle of a garden.

The backyard sits between the house and a large hillside. So it is a small area as it is. I will attach several pictures. there are also a number of pictures in the other thread.

Thanks in advance for anyone who shares their opinion. you guys helped us a lot with the drainage issues, so I'm excited to see what ideas you all have for the landscaping.


Here is a link that might be useful: Click here for original thread

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All of these images are from the same point of view because that is how the backyard is approached from the driveway and patio.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 11:00AM
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The wooden fence beyond the corner of the house will soon be replaced with a black aluminum fence. FYI.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 11:02AM
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Congratulations on completing your grading before the big rain. If I remember, one of the objectives of your project was to prevent water from getting behind the brick retaining wall and your house foundation. After the storm was there evidence of any water flowing out of the wall weep holes?

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 9:31AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance

Congratulations! I remember your thread. You did a great job! It looks fantastic!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 9:47AM
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One additional question .... Now that you have had a major rain, did you have any erosion on the steep side yard leading to your front yard? This area ....

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 10:25AM
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Thanks dessertdance.

pls8xx, thanks again for all of the help. The weep holes at the base of the brick wall do not have water draining onto the driveway anymore. The foundation drain continues to drain water. Previously it was a constant drain every single day. In late summer and early fall (not long after the big dig) the drain went dry for a period of time. So there is a noticeable difference in the amount of water that is soaking into the ground.

This has been another wet winter for us in Alabama. So the foundation drain has been flowing all winter. I think there is a lot of water that moves through the mountain that we are built on. The drain is just pulling that water from the surrounding clay and not necessarily draining straight down from the backyard . We are starting to warm up and dry out. So I will be paying attention to how the system is working.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 10:54AM
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Yes, I did have some erosion on that side. That is where the swale turns the corner. The erosion was mostly loose dirt that was leftover from the dig. It cut through my dirt pile like it wasn't even there. I am not getting much erosion in the lowest point of the swale. Once I get the area landscaped with some roots in the ground, I will have minimal erosion on a regular basis. In a big rain event, all bets are off. That is just fine with me too. My number one concern is guiding the water around my house. I will live with having to redo some landscaping if it prevents a flood in my house or foundation damage. Here is a picture of what that area looks like now.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 11:15AM
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Here is a shot from further down. The water flows around the corner (as seen in the post above) and drain down the side yard to the foundation drain. Then all of the water is carried downhill to the city culvert.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 11:17AM
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Good to hear that drainage is functioning. That's the most important thing. I must comment that your swale looks like an engineer, not a landscape architect created it. It could look better! The yellow line in my illustration illustrates the existing condition. If it were smoothed out more like the red line, it would not only give the channel greater water-carrying capacity, but it would provide a vastly improved space for walking through the yard. If desired, a paved walk of some type, which could help with erosion prevention, could be created in that space. Not shown in the picture, but is evident in one of the other photos, the swale alongside the patio probably doesn't need to be quite so pronounced, unless water is dumping off of the hill onto that area. Even if so, the grade there could be smoothed and blended better (similar to red line.) Other notes are on the drawing.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 8:19PM
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Yargvaark addresses much of the same things on my mind. There are three areas that need work; the backyard, the side yard with erosion problems, and the ridge between you and your neighbor.

For all three areas a first consideration should be the soil and any needed changes to support the desired land use. I think you mentioned the soil is clay, which could vary greatly in permeability, chemistry, and soil ph. The physical properties are more important because they are harder to change and can't be corrected after plants are installed. Now is the time to assess the soil you have.

I am wondering what grass type you plan on using? For the side yard I suggest Bermuda as it better handles erosion.

I concur with yardvaark on the need for lower growing plants for the screening from the neighbor. I would strongly suggest removing all pines from that area. The area will tend to be very dry and the pines will be thugs, making success with any other plants almost impossible.

The flat area of the backyard is premium space for you. The correction of the drainage issue diminished the width considerably as was anticipated in the earlier thread. It might be a good time to reconsider the short retaining walls I suggested to regain some of this space. For planning purposes, can you give us some measurements from the brick retaining wall to where the ground starts an upward slope?

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 10:32AM
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Yes, I am very pleased with the drainage. That was the #1 goal all along. I agree that I have the swale very "engineered", but for the time being that is what works best. It's difficult to tell from the photos but the grade of the swale is not as drastic as it appears. I have a low point in the bottom of the swale to hold the water that continues to trickle from the keystone wall. This trickles for days after the rain, and the low point in the swale concentrates this water to an area the width of my mattock. The rest of the yard drys quickly while this low point is still channeling the water that is seeping into the backyard. The long term fix would be the concrete walkway we discussed previously, but I am not ready to do that at this point in time. I am also not ready to pour the retaining walls in the garden area. For the time being I will be working with the swale that we created over the past year.

I really like the ground cover idea for the slopes. I was thinking of confederate jasmine for this area. The tree screen is a great idea too. Any suggestions for the type of trees?

I agree on the pines. I would like to remove them because they are within striking distance of the neighbors house should a storm blow them that way. I would also like to remove many of the small pines on the large hillside above the keystone wall. I should provide some additional pictures of the hillside. Does anyone have any ideas for hillside landscaping if I did remove the pines? I am concerned with erosion on the hillside without the pine trees there.

I am planning on Bermuda for the grass. I have Bermuda throughout the property. One thing to note, there is approximately half an acre behind the backyard we have discussed all along. Granted, most of it is a hillside. So I can incorporate any designs through out the entire backyard. We are in the process of fencing the half acre from the house to the property line.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 9:13PM
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I am confident that you grasp the principles and issues involving the swale and will resolve all in time.

A groundcover that you observe in your locale to be practical, good looking and manageable -- for a large scale area -- will be the one to use. I have always been partial to English Ivy, thinking it quite easy to manage and fulfilling all the other requirements, but the mere mention of it here in a positive light almost always causes pandemonium. What you use will depend on all the circumstances that are involved in your specific situation. See what the neighbors are using.

If you are not concerned about the screening effect during the winter, redbuds could be quite nice as a warm-season screen for the neighbor's house. If you have enough depth, you could back them up with cherry laurel, which is evergreen. Another seasonally showy flowering tree that can develop some height is pink dogwood. When living in Atlanta, I had a Royal Paulownia that I took a liking to due to the dramatic flowering display. It was VERY fast growing, so is good with some severe pruning or pollarding. That's what I was doing with mine and after the cut, stems almost 20' in length would return as the replacements.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 11:30AM
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I'm still making progress on the backyard. I've cut down 5 of the big pine trees that pls8xx suggested. I am contracting to have the other two cut down because they are so close to the neighbors house. Even with a rope and two guys pulling, we weren't comfortable dropping the remaining pines.
I am very please with how much it has opened up the yard with those trees gone. The garden area will now receive much more sunlight. I left a cedar tree that was growing amongst the pines. My plan is to let the cedar grow and be the dominate tree in that area of the landscape. I am going to create the screen, and fill in the landscape with the dogwoods and red buds like yardvark had suggested.

Our fence is being installed this week. At that point I will be ready to start sodding the backyard and getting one step closer to having a useable yard. I'll post some follow up pictures after they finish the fence. Yardvark, I took your advice from the other thread. They are installing a single run of aluminum fence along the sloping retaining wall. That was definitely a safety hazard and a "lawyers dream" if someone fell.

Here are a few pictures that show the hillside above the backyard we have been discussing. This will help show the bigger picture and hopefully field some more suggestion from others. Thanks for all of the help so far!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 12:00PM
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View from the backdoor.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 12:03PM
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Good on you for installing the fence along the cliff edge! It will bring peace of mind.

Hope you elicit additional suggestions.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 12:53PM
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