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Help wanted...who can tell me about French Drains?

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Hi there,

Can anyone help me with a question on French drains?

I have a very soggy back garden (mainly turfed on top of clay) and am looking for a solution to ensure my lawn is useable this summer and that I can plant nice things in my borders and give them half a chance of not drowning!

I have had 3 contractors in to give me quotes (as well as the French drain I am getting my existing borders dug out, sleepers put in to raise the soil level and filled with top soil - hopefully this will make a difference) and replaced with top soil. Anyway, the question is:

One of the contractors has quoted for laying a layer of stone/gravel across the whole area including between the trenches before laying the turf so that there is effectively a soak away between the turf and the existing clay. This sounds sensible to me, but I mentioned it to another of the contractors whose opinion was that it was not necessary, pointless and perhaps just a way of increasing his fees. However, the first contractor's price is not significantly higher...so who should I listen to?

The other thing is that the second guy didn't seem interested in quoting for the sleepers and borders at this time as he said we need to get the drainage sorted out and working effectively then think about other stuff...whereas the first guy is quite happy to do it all in one job...

I just want the job doing right and if that means paying a bit more to the person who will do the best job then fine, but not having any knowledge of French drains and such work, I don't know who that is...can anyone help? Given they are saying different things, from the info above, who sounds most experienced?
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Location: North Central Michigan
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we have done drains in steps here..first we had a ditch dug to drain spring flooding off to the swamp behind our house, as it was very dangerous flooding ..county had to dig the ditch cause they caused the problem by routing water onto our property.

after that some wetter areas were dug into smaller ditches crisscrossing over the area and emptying into the larger ditch..these were lined with gravel and perforated drain pipe put in, my son also built a house and had similar drains all the way around the house leading to the ditches and had a sump pump for any flooding put in that also drained to the ditch.

we also had dug out a low area on the property bit by bit into a small pond, larger pond, doubled the size, doubled the depth to a much larger pond..and overflow into the ditch as well.

now we have very little problem with flooding, although when the ground is frozen we'll still have some thaw stand in lakes in the winter or spring..but not nearly as much as we used to have.

we hope in the future to put in more ponds..but the gravel and perf pipes work really well (we covered with sod)
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