Past Meeting, Sep 2022: Zach Barton – Salamander Garden


September 22, 2022 by lancasterherp

The Lancaster Herpetological Society (LHS) wants to thank everyone who attended the meeting this past Friday. It was the first indoor meeting of the group since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also want to thank That Fish Place/That Pet Place for graciously allowing us to use their conference room for the meeting!

We were fortunate to have long-time LHS member Zach Barton speak about his yard renovation project. Having a lot of time at home due to the pandemic, he decided to transform his grassy yard into something that would welcome native amphibians and reptiles. He wanted to create a safe haven for any herps that might wander into his yard from the suburban sprawl of his residential neighborhood.

We were able to listen to Zach’s talk in the comfort of That Fish Place’s conference room.

Inspiration for the project came from the spring of 2019, where Zach took a tour of the Rain Gardens in Lancaster City. Rainfall and stormwater from the city flow directly into the city’s sewer system, which can overflow during times of intense rain. In these instances, the overflowing rainwater, now mixed with sewage, can flow out of sewer system and into the surrounding waterways. Rain Gardens have been constructed around the city to slow the flow of water into the sewer systems, helping to prevent them from overflowing. They also add some refreshing greenery to the concrete and asphalt environments of the city. Inspired by the candid discussion of the city’s various Rain Gardens, Zach thought he could do something similar with his own yard, and attract native herps along the way. Specifically, he wanted to create a Shade Garden which would be a refuge for salamanders from the hot summer sun.

Not all of the Rain Gardens in the city are created equal, though they all are pursuing the noble endeavor of slowing the flow of stormwater into the sewers.

Before starting the project, Zach’s yard was a fairly traditional suburban yard: grass and some trees that were not native to the state of Pennsylvania (a Norway maple, Japanese maple, and a Lilac tree). In order to attract native reptiles and amphibians, you need native plantlife to attract native insects, which become a food source for the herps. The Norway maple was a very large tree, but it still had to go!

Before Zach took on the renovation, his yard was largely grass, looking right at home in suburbia.

An important aspect of building a refuge for amphibians and reptiles is to supply a source of water. For this purpose, he added an extension to the downspout of his gutter system, such that any rain water would be directed away from the house and into his yard.

Concrete strictures were built around the downspout extension and then covered with dirt.

Grass was removed downstream of the downspout extension, delineating the region that was to become the Shade Garden.

A deeper depression was created in one region of the garden for water to pool.
Zach and his family created faces in the mounds of dirt to help the neighbors understand that the yard renovations were purposeful.

With the boundaries of the Shade Garden set, Zach began to add native plants.

Zach quickly learned that there were not enough shading plants to keep away the hot sun, so he constructed a Shade Wall out of concrete blocks. Many of these blocks had channels in them, providing place for insects or herps to hide.

To help with shading, Zach planted a bunch of native trees around the Shade Garden and put up some temporary covers.

Zach planted a large number of trees and shrubs around the garden, all within a fairly small area. This is more akin to how they would be placed in nature, not neatly separated like you might see in a manicured lawn.

Now that Zach’s Shade Garden is well into its second year of existence, the plantlife is really taking hold.

Lots of insects are finding homes in the Shade Garden, and this summer Zach found his first Toad! With the passage of time, the vegetation will get denser and provide ample shade from the sun.

It was both exiting and inspiring to hear about Zach taking his idea and making it a reality. I think it got everyone’s imagination going, thinking about what similar projects they could do on their own properties. The talk was a wonderful way to start indoor LHS meetings after a long absence. Once again, we want to thank everyone who came out to the meeting, and especially Zach for giving the talk. We are also grateful to That Fish Place for giving us a space for the meetings. Watch for a future email to detail next month’s meeting.

-Greg Wier


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