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New Builds and garden drainage problems

Hi all,

I’m after some advice if possible.

I’ve recently been doing some landscape work on a few new builds, but I’m facing the same problems. The ground is so wet and sludgy, it’s a nighmare to work in and not only that, I’m concerned wether the ground will hold up over time. ALL my clients have complained to the original contractors but they haven’t done much/anything about it. 


Has as anyone come across this issue before?

How did you resolve it?

What is the main cause of this?

I know over the time the newly laid turf will absorb some of the water, I guess another concern is the patio area


All comments welcome. Thanks in advance 



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  • About 30 years ago I was helping a friend of mine who was a landscaper and we were on a new build where the ground was saturated, particularly at one end where the ground was lower [of course]. You could see the bricks on the house below the damp proof strip were also saturated. I had never seen that before, or since. We were levelling and laying turf. We did manage it, but it was a pig and as it wasn’t my job, I have no idea how it faired afterwards. Sadly they will build houses on a swamp if there is cash to be made.

    If I were asked to do a job like that now, I would either advise the client that we should wait until the ground dries out, or I would walk away from the job. You can’t level wet ground/soil satisfactorily. I have found that any client will appreciate and respect professional advice like this as it shows that you are not just out to do a rough job and take the money.

    The only way to proceed if you must is if the ground is pretty much level to start with and it is possible to build up the required levels with new, dry topsoil which can be raked, levelled and worked with. It is better to build up certain areas with new dry top soil than to mistakenly try and rotovate and move mud, which can’t be done. But even with dry top soil, if the ground is a quagmire to start with, I would wait for it to dry out.

  • Hi Dan,

    If it were me I would postpone the work until you get a good run of dry weather. Where I work here in Belgium, the soil can turn to glue very quickly after heavy prolonged rain. It's absolutely no advantage to you or the soil to work it when it's in that  bad a condition. I have worked a fair few front and back gardens on new builds, back in Ireland during the celtic boom. The problem is compaction brought on by heavy machinery,constantly going back and forward pummeling the ground in all kinds of weather. Add in buried everything from the builders, and sprinkle over a smidgen of 'top soil', and that is my guess what your dealing with.' It's only a bit of grass after all.'

    I dont know the site so I can only guess but your gonna have to get down and relieve the compaction . Hopefully with a small digger. If you can get one in to the garden, be careful for services and also that you dont smear the soil as you use the bucket. I use it like a spade to break the compaction, down and pull back back without turning the bucket itself ( If that makes sense).If you smear it by turning the bucket you will in effect create a pan where the water cant pass through quickly enough, just like the builders did. you will need to get the soil back working again too. A good dose of compost 3cm layer on the top of the area and worked in.dont be tempted to add too much compost as after a while it will disappear and you will get soil sinking too.. Or use a soil regenerator of sum description to wake up the soil. 

    I hope this helps in some small way.... courage!! 



  •  I think with these new builds drainage is completely overlooked as every single one I've done is saturated constantly 

  • PRO

    I worked in heavy civils and the gardens are never taken into account and landscape architects are never consulted as its not required under any sort of regulation. So what happens is they just get dug out to the level required with zero thought about drainage in regards to soil type, falls etc. Then covered with topsoil and turfed.

    I'm trying to sort out a barn conversion with a particularly stupid garden. The site is on a hill and the developers cut out the hill perfectly level and covered it with a foot of topsoil, on top of clay. They then put a soakaway in the middle of the garden with no channels leading to it and covered it with the same clay they dug out meaning water couldn't get to it. WTF? They dug out the hedgelines slightly deeper so they hold water and the patio is perfectly level with the flags laid the wrong way. And they sank a wooden hot tub. The house is worth £1.25, i really don't know who gives these people money?

    Solution: I put in land drains leading to the soakaway with an silt trap overflow connected to the top water drains. Not cheap and not right but short of spending serious money its the best solution. 

    Your situation is shit because if you put drainage in one garden then the water from the adjacent gardens will flow into it too. If they have seperate top water drains from the sewage you could do something similar to what i did but really you need to do the whole row to solve the problem or ideally the whole area. They should get together and sue the developer in my opinion.

    • PRO

      The couple of major developers we work for all have landscape architect approved landscaping plans for private and communal areas and are a planning requirement. Also often provided with with audit reports and 5 - 10 year maintenance guidelines.

      The bigger issue is often the result of poor ground prep works by the builders subbies - levels / gradients / proud inspection chambers / no drains etc with often no inspection before sign-off. Miss the old role of ‘Clerk of Works ‘ :(

      Landscapers get involved too late in the process to take them to task thus have to deal with the fate accompli and have no budget to make improvements....

      • PRO

        A planning requirement maybe but not a regulation. Planning requirements are down to local councils. I have never seen landscape architect designed gardens on a housing estate with the appropriate drainage and I've worked on a few. 

        I've worked for the sort of subcontractors you're talking about and I have never done anything in the way of landscaping on housing estates beyond topsoil and turf. I have never even been asked to. No land drains, nothing. I have put things like that in for highways and other civils projects. I helped put a Haha in Chester hospital a few years ago but never anything on housing estates. Public and communal areas yes, but not back gardens. Its probably down to each area too, the South probably does that everywhere. But its grim up North! And to be fair I have pretty much only worked on civil works and affordable housing not private housing estates, affordable may well have different regulations to private domestic. 

        I miss the clerks too, we have one for every five jobs where I am and its really starting to show. How stupid is it to cut the people that ensure you're getting quality work. 

        • PRO

          Agree and maybe the difference is both regional and maybe reflects Social Vs Private housing developments, but planning requirements or constraints are applied ( not regulations ). Development plans don't normally pass approval here unless the communal/street scene landscaping, front exterior landscape are defined.

          Down here, rear gardens can and do have a basic element of landscaping beyond what you describe and agree that drainage leaves a lot to be desired (if at all catered for), but the general state at handover is sometimes appalling - grading / levels wrong, chambers 4-6" above ground level and so on

          Current development has trees in every rear garden, a number shrubs, ubiquitious lawn and basic patio ( with some ground levels on handover putting it above DPC !). Fencing contractors pull their hair out trying to do rear fence runs etc on blocks of houses !


          • PRO

            Lucky. All we get is continuous run fencing, turf and a two flag path with social housing. They do the fronts sometimes but not always and it seems like they can change that if they run out of money. 

            Got to agree about the quality of the groundworks in some of these but in defense of the guys doing the work. Its usually not there fault, they know what to do and would rather rip out and then use new gear same as any trade and they nearly always complain to the office about the same problems that affect the landscapers. Bad gear, unfinished work, rushed work etc. But the budget and planning is awful and the answer is always no. 

            I asked the works manager on the Runcorn bridge project if they took into account things going wrong or getting redone when they put together a programme of works after he gave us a big speech about it and he said no! Its middle management stupidity in my opinion, someone cutting something from his budget to look good which is more hassle to do without. Eg. grano or equivalent should be in every benching mix for chamber lids, grids and manholes and its rare to even see it.

  • PRO

    The volume housebuilders strip the top soil and run heavy machinery over the subsoil creating a hard pan, then spread the top soil back over upon completion.

    Unless the hard pan that is under the top soil is broken up, slit or drainage installed the top soil will become saturated in many places.



  • PRO

    When we design a new build garden ready for the landscaping and the budget is sitting right, the best option especially if the garden is on some sort of slope, which most are is to raise the height of the garden and in an ideal situation stepping a few steps up into the garden. This means the ground level crap can be eliminated and then we bring in bulk type 1 for the patio areas and bulk turfing sand for the new turf and is guaranteed to work as the bed of new sand is sitting at minimum 300 - 400mm. 3780246652?profile=RESIZE_930x

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