Monday, December 05, 2022

Damn raingarden

The dual photos above and below are “before and after” photos of today’s project: Phase One of dealing with the damn raingarden in front of my house. Phase Two will involve some replanting and other maintenance work. I hate everything about this, not the least that I have absolutely no choice, nor a say.

The raingarden is something that Hamilton City Council requires for new housing areas in the city, and my house is in such an area. They’re intended to catch stormwater runoff from houses, giving it a chance to be absorbed in the ground through the raingarden or, if rains are extra heavy, to at least help hold it back before it gets to the stormwater system, and then heads toward the sea.

To be clear, I think the idea is great, and it will help reduce the amount of storm water that enters the stormwater network and, hopefully, the water that does will be (at least somewhat) cleaner than it otherwise might be. The issue for me is the burden it puts on homeowners: Hamilton is essentially outsourcing part of its stormwater management to homeowners who have to maintain their raingarden to Council’s specifications, and without any sort of support or compensation.

Here are my specific objections. First, I pay the same rates (similar to property taxes in the US, though different) as would be paid on a property similar to mine, but in a part of the city without raingardens. At the same time, I’m entirely responsible for maintaining the damn thing. That means I need to get down on the ground and pull the weeds—frequently. I’m supposed to put in fresh hardwood mulch every year, and “remove excess mulch every few years”. I’m supposed to trim/thin the plants, and replace them from to time—and I’m not allowed to change the species of plants nor to mix species (apparently only five plant species, all natives, are allowed, even if they’re ugly). All of that is on me, at my expense.

Like I said, raingardens are a great idea—on Council land and maintained by Council. It’s not fair for them to place the burden of maintaining the things onto someone who happens to live in only a certain part of the city, and also requiring them to donate their money and time and labour to the city; it should be up to me to volunteer my labour or to whom I donate my money.

At the moment, I can get down on the ground (getting back up again can be a challenge…), and I have to get down on the ground because the bottom of the thing is probably around 20 or 30cm from the ground level (my front lawn is a slight slope). If I still live in this house in my old age, I’ll have to hire someone to maintain it for me—at my expense, of course.

The damn raingarden, right in front of my house, is also ugly AF—it looks like a cattle trough (and it’s in a bizarre spot). The builder did the most absolutely basic, cheapest, bare minimum required, while better builders make them at least reasonably okay looking. But, then, the name-brand home building companies are big for good reasons, and attention to detail is one of the reasons. The ugliness isn’t Council’s fault, obviously, but maybe they should impose some sort of minimum design standards so they don’t look so gawdawful.

On the day I was going to have my pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner, I got a letter from a “stormwater compliance specialist” at Hamilton City Council. The letter informed me that my raingarden had been inspected by Council and there were “issues”, specifically, “incorrect plant selection” and “not enough plants”. No specific information was given to tell me what, precisely, they meant. Poor communication seems to be one of Hamilton City Council’s most notable attributes.

The very next paragraph began, “As this is a pilot programme, we will not be taking any action.” That sounded like a veiled threat to me, and referring to an enclosed poorly-written brochure wasn’t much help—but it was the first time in the nearly three years since I signed the contract that anyone has given me any information on what I’m supposed to do with the damn raingarden. So… that’s, progress?

Here’s the thing. As I’ve made clear, much as I think they’re a good idea (on Council land), I hate, loathe, and despise the raingarden on my property. However, I also do my damnedest to comply with laws and regulations, no matter how pathetic, stupid, unfair, or infuriating I think they are. In this case, my antipathy meant I wasn’t in any hurry to comply until that letter arrived.

Instead, I was more focused on the back part of my property, which was arguably even more neglected than the damn raingarden. And then the rains descended, and I wasn’t able to do anything outside—but the weeds sure got a lot done. The damn raingarden has long been plagued by convolvulus, a viney, fast-growing plant (the species includes morning glories and sweet potatoes)—and all the rain helped it grow even faster, quickly covering the entire thing. As soon as the weather broke, I planned to deal to the damn raingarden, and today the stars aligned.

I removed the weeds, including the runners that had wrapped themselves round and round the inside of the base. I filled a black rubbish bag with everything I removed, and that concluded Phase One (that bag is sort of a pre-composting; when it starts to break down I’ll put the contents—by then much smaller—in my actual compost bin).

Phase Two will involve re-planting, replacing dead plants. The builder planted three plants, which spread out over time—and then two died (maybe during the drought-like summer conditions?). I thought I’d have to dig them out, but today I tried pulling some out, and it turned they were easy to remove. Before I do that, I though, want to find the plants (the dead plants’ shade should discourage weeds in the meantime). I also have to find “hardwood mulch” (all of what I’ve seen in home centres is pine, though I suppose I may have just missed it). This all became a thing a little over a week ago when that letter arrived, and it was the very last thing I needed at the time. As I said in my post about Thanksgiving:
I had a demand made of me that was, at that moment, the “last straw”. I’ve been trying so damn hard to make progress around the house, outside in particular, and it’s been extremely difficult for a lot of reasons. Today I felt as if it was all pointless, that I was shoved back a hundred miles from the start line. Crushed, I was also livid, and I found myself swearing profusely if, say, an inanimate object fell over in the middle of me doing something.
I felt like all my hard work had been pointless because it suddenly wasn’t good enough. With that demand from Council, on top of other household work I’ve not gotten to, and the things the builder did wrong that I now have to deal with, all of that, in that moment I deeply regretted buying this house, and even moving to Hamilton (that was the part that passed the quickest, I might add: I was really just angry with Hamilton City Council).

However, as I also said in that post, “I talked myself off the ledge, and I was aware that Nigel could always do that—but even more aware that none of this stuff would be happening if Nigel was still here.” And that’s the short version of why I was so upset because of that letter. Still, I pushed past it, and today I began to do the work that Council requires—though even without that I would’ve got to it sooner rather than later.

I’ll have more to say about this when I get to Phase Two, and maybe my perspectives will have changed. But I’ll still hate that damn raingarden.

This photo is from the opposite side the photo up top was taken from, basically uphill from that one and looking down toward the street. The plants in the right foreground are dead.

Update – January 11, 2023: A week or so after I published this post, I found a company I can order the plants from, though I didn't because of the holidays. This was a good thing, because I remembered that this is the wrong time of the year for me to plant (I need to wait until it's close to autumn). This will give me some time to see if I can source them locally. I still haven't been able to find "hardwood mulch" anywhere in New Zealand. All of which means that "Phase Two" probably won't be until late February or early March.

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