From Mudslide to Tranquil Terrace

Who’s ready to talk about drainage issues again? What can I say, water is everywhere and can do major damage to a landscape without proper guidance. In our many years of working on people’s yards, drainage is almost always a part of the project. Builders often create beautiful houses without giving much thought to the way rain and moisture will play into the home’s durability. The outside is the last thing people tend to worry about when they’ve spent most of their budget and time on the inside of the home, the “important” stuff. This is because, frankly, drainage is not sexy. It’s not something anyone considers when looking for a home. But we can assure you, it’s worth caring about. Whether you live in a million dollar mansion or a two bedroom cabin, the management of the water in your yard makes a difference.

Located on a river with a very steep backyard and side-yard, this next house we worked on was bound to have drainage problems.

You may remember this house from a previous blog, Digging Deep in Dahlonega. In that project, water was leaking into the client’s basement. We had to locate the source of the drainage, fill the void between the concrete and the home, and create a system to redirect the water. Unfortunately for this client, the drainage problems didn’t end there.

Here is the “before” image of this client’s yard. The client installed some of their own landscaping but water was washing it all away. Because the stone path they added followed the grade of the hill, the flagstone steps weren’t doing much to stop the water and became very slippery when wet. Needless to say, it wasn’t safe. Even more, in this image you can see the new home being built next door through the trees. Amidst all the drainage issues, the client also needed more planting to create privacy for their home.
This is what the yard looked like when it rained. There was no denying it, it was a mudslide!
This image shows the severity of the backyard’s slope and a dry creek bed the client installed to help with mud and erosion. There are many problems with this dry creek bed but for one, it was too shallow. Water washed right over it, taking some of the rocks down stream. Also, without fixing the problems closer to the home, unfortunately this dry creek bed didn’t make enough of a difference by itself.
Here is a corrugated drainage pipe the client put in to divert some of the water from the house. Part of the problem with corrugated pipes is that they clog easily and can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This client had a major mosquito problem. The channels in the ribbed pipes were filled with water, allowing for thousands of mosquitoes to hatch inside. A lot of people buy these because they are cheaper and more flexible, but we strongly believe that slick PVC pipe is always the way to go.

The client also tried to make the side of their house higher by adding soil to shield from the water. Unfortunately, they added too much dirt and it covered up some of the siding which can attract bugs, termites, and unwanted moisture.

The client tried many things to redirect water away from the house but nothing seemed to make much of a difference. The steps, the dry creek bed, the pipes, the soil on the side of the house – these attempts all had their individual issues and none of them could solve the overall predicament.

To turn this treacherous mud pit into a traversable safe haven, we had to redo the client’s entire backyard. It would take a lot of problem solving but we wanted to give the family an outdoor space that could function without any stress or ongoing maintenance issues. As always, we also aimed to construct a beautiful landscape full of planting that fits their needs while looking amazing.

Here is the final product! We had to start at the home and then work our way out. The goal was to direct water away from the house as much as possible. We moved a ton of dirt away from the foundation, cleaned the gutters, replaced all the drain pipes with slick PVC pipes, and added rocks upon rocks upon rocks. On the right side of this image you can see where we added multiple truckloads of gravel up against the house to redirect water and deter any more bugs or moisture from getting in.
Then we added terraces to stop the soil erosion caused by rain and moisture gravitating down the hill. Terraces slow and reduce water runoff by redirecting the flow of water underground, rather than overland. They are also good for creating planting opportunities and green spaces that break up the hillside visually to make for a more interesting design. From this image you can see tiered garden walls and shrubs we added to create a more attractive scene. The stability of the walls is due to the gravel compacted below and behind them. They were started 6-8 inches below the surface to ensure their security. Here’s another blog we did on terrace walls that solved a client’s drainage issues and created areas for gardening. We love it when solutions also become opportunities for beauty.
We also created stability for the tiered walls with level stones that do not follow the grade of the yard. Stones that are laid to follow the grade will slide down the hill. Gravity helps to hold these boulders when they are level.
In this image you can see more of the terraces along with the Arborvitaes we planted to help with privacy. This photo is from the same perspective as the first image in this article. On the other side of these small trees you would see the house being built, but the new greenery provides some much needed screening. Arborvitae trees are fast-growing, easy-care evergreens most commonly used for their foliage, like a living fence.
Here one of the dry creek beds we installed that goes underneath the stone walkway we also put together. It helps in the effort of redirecting water away from the house and stopping the ground from getting so muddy and unmanageable.
Here is another image of the stone path we created for safely stepping down the steep hill. The client added the lights by the steps to help with navigating at night. You might also notice the variegated yellow thyme by the steps. The client wanted herbs so we added lots of lavender and thyme, among other things.
This image shows the view from the top of the slope and includes some of the planting we did and garden accessories the client added. We put in a small bench (seen on the right side of this photo) while the client installed the arbor over the steps (seen in the first “after” image), the bird feeders, and other garden art and accessories. We love when our clients add their own whimsical touch.
Just to highlight some more of the plants we used, here is a dwarf Arborvitae with lavender behind it and a red maple in the background. Red, yellow, and blue. You can’t go wrong with incorporating some form of the primary colors.
We also planted a Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa.) It is one of my absolute favorites because of its interesting, gnarled shape.

This project took a lot of work and planning, but overall we think it turned out nicely. Our clients were happy, their drainage issues were solved, the foliage added more privacy and beauty to the yard, and most importantly, no more mudslide!

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