Oh that Oleander!

It all started when Tanja and I decided to replace an oleander shrub in our front garden that barely survived the freeze. With two hearty shrubs on either side, lush roses nearby, and a looming deadline for photos for our website, we bought a new young oleander shrub from the local Jardiland. I figured I had a two hour job of removing the old one and replacing it with the new one. I was soon to be disabused of that notion.

It turns out that oleander have deep, deep roots, including a major taproot. So I dug and dug and dug, hauling out the pick, axe and maddock to try to pull this thing out. I also had an alarmingly real conversation with it, in which I apologized for depriving it of its current life for aesthetics’ sake. My spade hit and I removed many rocks and think chunks of clay, but none of the blue mesh that is supposed to warn of drainage or sewer pipes. Then – CHUNK! A different sound. Something shiney began to emerge as my heart sank. I had hit a sewer line barely 16 inches below the surface.

The hole

It appeared to be a new rift, but who knew in an incredibly old farm house? Because I had reached adequate depth for the new shrub, I considered my options. There was no sewage flowing out of it so perhaps it was not active and I had been spared an encounter with big stinky. Perhaps some duct tape would suffice. Or I could buy a piece of plastic and glue it shut. Somehow my better nature intervened and I decided to uncover as much as I could to determine the extent of the damage. So I dug and dug for several more hours. I determined there were several areas over a 25 cm swath that I had managed to tear with my tools. So much for the easy fix.

I held my breath as I asked Tanja to flush a toilet. I could hear water flowing somewhere deep inside the pipe, but no liquid. That could be a good sign.

Cut apart.

So I spent another few hours exposing as much of the pipe as possible and eventually cutting out a section of the bad pipe. I thought I was doing pretty well, but by then day 1 was over and we needed to get to bed.

Day 2 dawned, wet and rainy, and we went to several home building supply stores before we could find pipe of the right diameter, apparently rarely used anymore. So I bought two sleeves, a 4 meter length of pipe (!) and glue. Rain prevented anything else from happening that day.

On Day 3, I started early, hoping to get my two hour job completed post haste. However, the collars would not fit over the pipe or the insert. Too tight!

Sanding and filing

The guys working at our site gave me some sandpaper, and I spent the better part of Day 3 sanding and sanding, to little effect. This was beginning to get frustrating! they promised to bring heavy duty files the next day, which would be day 4!

The filing never worked, so I had to cut slits in each collar before adding the glue, making a huge mess, and eventually, after getting everyone into the act, joining all pieces together. I think there was more glue on us than on the pipe. And it dried immediately. The bond was not good, so we tied rope around it to hold it overnight as I peeled glue from my fingers.


Finally the pipe appeared to be stable enough to slop more glue on it for good measure, and eventually to fill in all the dirt, this time placing the blue mesh for the poor guy digging this plant out in the future, and getting the new oleander into its proper place, completely oblivious to the massive effort that went into its new home!

For my part, I suppose it was a teaching moment. Be careful when you wield a pick. Get used to everything in France taking at least three times as long as expected. Be grateful for empty sewer pipes. And, of course, be mindful and enjoy every moment that life brings…..

The new oleander among friends.

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