Gas Man In The Garden

When the sulfur yellow dash appeared at the edge of my garden, I got concerned. The spray-painted mark was a calling card from Washington Gas, which was coming with heavy equipment to work on its service lines.

The dash indicated a line going through prized plants, among them a buoyant lilac inherited from Lab School of Washington founder Sally Smith’s campus garden.


Photo Credit: John A. Bray

Industrial excavation doesn’t ordinarily bode well for gardens. The street was going to be dug up, but the plan for lateral lines to houses was to slip a flexible plastic tube into the existing pipe.

The crew started the job in November at the corner, a few doors down. Instead of slipping in and out from one house to the next, they were digging big trenches to the houses and dirt was piling up on yards. The problem, as crewmembers explained to me, was the insert couldn’t be pushed around turns, or “swings”, in the pipe needed to traverse elevation and maneuver to the house.

Now it looked like a more intrusive job. A promising fig tree and a muscadine grape vine that had just produced its first fruit harvest after four years of tending were at risk, along with whatever was going to wind up under spoil.

The job also involved moving the gas meter from inside the house to the outside. Gas service had been working fine at my house. I wasn’t interested in getting high-pressure service, which the work was intended to accommodate and apparently is required for appliances such as tankless water heaters. I didn’t want a gas meter sticking out of the front of my house. My case to the gas company to pass over my house failed. The work was necessary to “ensure safe and reliable” service, something I wanted to continue.


Photo Credit: John A. Bray

The crew strived to avoid harm, working with me to position the meter in the least obtrusive spot and routing the pipe trench in a way that minimized intrusion in planted areas. They dug up the lilac with shovels and set it aside. I pulled up the obstructing side the grape trellis and bent it out of the way. The backhoe operator deftly maneuvered the power scoop to free the resistant fig by the roots and carefully piled the trench spoil.

At day’s end, with the new pipes in place, the plants and dirt were put back in place. It’s January 2017 now and the gas crew is decamping from my corner. Part of my garden has been turned into a dirt lot. And the meter, silent under low-pressure when it was inside, now emits a soft, tinkling hiss when gas flows. It might turn out that the care they took will pay off in garden preservation. Spring will tell.

© 2017 John A. Bray