Wrestling with Rain Barrels

If something can go wrong…

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FLOLEY

I am late to gardening. When we first left the city, our front yard was lawn, lawn, lawn. At some point, I decided to redo the yard in a different image. The grass went, and I added Plants. Shrubs. Perennials.

For some reason, the person who designed this house, a standard rectangular bilevel, added a sharply asymmetrical triangle roof section that swoops down over the front door.

Visually, it isn’t bad. From a practical standpoint, however, it leaves something to be desired. The problem is gravity and precipitation.

When it rains, the water hits the point of the roof with some magically enhanced force, races down the gutter, and floods the area to the left of the front door. This is of particular concern because nothing grows in that area and it is close to the windows on the lower level of the house.

The urns may outweigh Dumbo, but gravity, leverage, and other laws of physics conspired against me.

To resolve this issue, I put a rain barrel where the water came down heaviest—the cheapest rain barrel I could find, an ugly green plastic thing. I couldn’t stand to look at it. After that, I put out a big beige plastic barrel that faintly resembled a chest-high urn. The urn has a spigot to which one can attach a hose, and a perforated bowl on the top in which one can allegedly plant something, but which, in reality, is only an ugly water splasher.

The urn does its job adequately. Until there is a lot of rain. Then the urn overflows and—because of its size and position—assures that water will flow into the lower-level windows.

So I bought another urn, with a hose attaching it to the first. Two plastic urns do not have even the marginally pleasing look of one, but that is life.

Once full, each urn weighs as much as a small truck. Moreover, they cry out to be emptied.

This is where Ray, my husband, and I differ. He wants to use the water. I’m just happy if it’s out of the window wells. Most times, he leaves it alone (it’s my garden, after all). Sometimes, however, he decides to use the water in the urns.

This isn’t hard. Just attach the hose, turn the spigot, and water will—slowly—trickle out.

This takes a long time to deliver any appreciable amount of water. And it’s boring to stand and watch water trickle out the hose. So he leaves it in the garden bed. Unfortunately, from my point of view, he drapes the hose across the path to the front door and lets it sit there. For days. Or weeks. Until I come by and roll up the danged hose.

He particularly likes to use a really long hose, which guarantees that the trickle will be almost imperceptible and the hose will remain an extra long time.

Which leads to this story. We are having the worst summer weather in my long memory. Recently, we’ve been in the midst of a dry spell. A hot dry spell. Most of the plants have been carefully chosen—either by me or by their natural survival skills —and are taking the heat with equanimity. One large hydrangea bush is not. This bush happens to be immediately in front of our front door, where no one can miss it.

This is close enough to use the water in the urns. So I attached the shortest possible hose to the spigot, ran it into the bed under the hydrangea, and opened the spigot.

Nothing.

I pushed the urn, hoping to get the stream going. A tiny gush. By the time I walked to the hose end, it stopped.

So I leaned against the urn. It barely budged, but as long as I kept the urn at an angle, the water flowed.

Of course, in a yard full of stones, rocks, sticks and other paraphernalia, there did not appear to be anything suitable I could prop under the urn.

The hydrangea, dying before my eyes, was desperate. Nothing to be done but lean against the urn.

At this point, my husband arrived.

“Whatcha doin’?” he asked casually.

“Watering the hydrangea,” I said, stating the obvious.

“Just leave it there. Put a rock or something under it.”

“I can’t.”

He examined the hose, which was lying across the walkway. Nudging it with the toe of his lime-green Crocs (it’s an irony thing), he said, “It’s not flowing. You have to push it more.”

I got a better stance on the slippery ground, cursing the decorative stones, which were, of course, my idea. Isn’t this thing sup-posed to get lighter as it empties?

“There. It’s going again,” Ray announced.

He stood a little way off, contemplating the garden, the sky, and his middle-aged wife who, to gain traction, had now put her foot on the side of the house.

Big mistake.

The urns may outweigh Dumbo, but gravity, leverage, and other immutable laws of physics conspired against me. The urn tipped, leaned, and then, without warning, toppled, taking me with it. Worse, the second urn, attached by a little hose to the first, followed.

Upon hitting the edge of the front step, the urn split. The second one didn’t, but its top flew off. A cascade of foul water swamped me. It flooded my nose and mouth—choking off the string of curses I might have otherwise spewed.

My husband watched this from a safe distance. As much as he loves me, the stench discouraged rescue.

I managed to get the urn upright and survey the damage. I knew I had to dispose of the pieces quickly or Ray would duct tape them together (he hates to throw anything away).

So without a word, I took the now-empty urn and carefully stomped on it until it broke into many pieces. Calmly, I ripped off the spigot, wrenching it out of the plastic. Without any animus, I hurled it into the garden.

To assure that these pieces would not resurrect into a duct-taped urn, I cheerfully stuffed the slimy pieces into my car and drove to the recycling center.

When I returned, still slightly damp, my husband had built a small but steady platform of stepping stones. He had placed the now-empty second urn on top.

Gravity on its side, that urn now efficiently provides water to the dry spots in our yard.
My husband still leaves the hose across the path.

For his part, he has never mentioned how I lost the wrestling match with the plastic urn.

For my part, I no longer complain about the hose in the path. (I just roll it up and put it away.)

Marriage is built on small compromises.


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