Residential Rain Garden’s take shape throughout City

A City resident transforms her front yard from grass to a rain garden full of native plants, that now capture all of the runoff from her front roof, porch roof, and sidewalk. The installation was completed by Susquehanna EcoDesign who described the plant selection as Wildscaping, a native wildlife garden that is pollinator friendly.

Many residents in the City have small postage stamp front planting or grass areas and this application is ideal for those who want more color and less mowing.  In this case the yard had a slight slope to the sidewalk so a small retaining wall was installed to hold the soil and level the garden. (click on the images to enlarge)

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Grass was removed to create the rain garden area and stones were added to support the far end of the garden where the new soil was placed.  The square footage of the area excavated was calculated to insure it will capture at least 1″ of run-off from the front of the house.  Overflow water from the rain garden is piped back into the combined sewer pipe as shown below.

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Gort-Walton Garden Transformation

Stormwater Capture: Approx. 30,000 GAL / YEAR
The Gort-Walton project started nearly a year ago when the couple attended the community celebration for the Wolf Museum garden (see below for details on that project). The couples imagination was captured as they saw an opportunity to transform the front of their home from a snaggle of English Ivy to a beautiful native pollinator friendly garden that would capture rain water run-off from their home. (click on images to enlarge)

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With assistance from Millersville University graduate students an assessment was completed to calculate the amount of stormwater coming off the home and make recommendations for specific solutions (location, size, and scale).

With some quick re-routing of downspouts the property owners were able to take nearly 100% of the roof run-off from the home to the front of the house where a dry well and rain garden were installed by Living Stone Landscapes a City of Lancaster based contractor.

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The Dry well is excavated, lined with geo textile and overflow pipe.  Clean stone fills the well and is wrapped in the geo textile keeping soil and sediment out but allowing water to flow in.  The well is covered with 1′ of soil and planted.  Each dry well is scaled in size based on the amount of water that flows in.

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The rain garden (pictured above and below), also known as bioretention, is a method of managing stormwater by pooling water within a planting area, using soil burms that allow the water to infiltrate into the garden.

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Pollinator Friendly Garden:
The native plants and flowers were selected for their many benefits to wildlife and were installed by Lancaster County Conservancy staff and volunteers.  It’s really not that hard to transform your garden into a welcoming habitat for native wildlife.

Pollinators are bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other animals which feed from flowers, transferring pollen in the process.  Many blooming plants depend on pollinators for survival, and globally many pollinators are showing disturbing signs of decline from a variety of causes.

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Wolf Museum Residential Demonstration Project

Stormwater Capture: Approx. 40,000 GAL / YEAR
A first of its kind, in Lancaster City, public demonstration project to show local residents how the use of simple technologies such as rain barrels, a rain garden and dry creek can be used in combination to capture and retain water flow from homes, capturing nutrients and reducing flow to the City’s Combined Sewer System.

The Lancaster County Conservancy worked with the Wolf Museum, adjacent property owners, and neighborhood volunteers to develop multiple methods of addressing storm water runoff including the installation of rain barrels, rain garden, and dry creek to minimize the amount of runoff coming from and onto the Wolf Museum property.  Click here to download the Wolf Museum Fact Sheet (PDF)
Wolf Musem - site plan Wolf Museum Plant Layout - Color March 2014

Rain Barrels – 2 barrels at 55 gallon capacity for each barrel: Rain barrels were installed onsite with overflow into a large rain garden.
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Rain Garden (Size 12’ x 20’): The location of the rain garden will address runoff from the garage roof (See Wolf Museum Rain Garden Proposal above). The rain garden was installed at least 10’ from neighbors’ garage foundation in line with the downspout and slope to intercept the rooftop water. From our onsite observation increasing the depth (18-20″) and using a mixture of 40% topsoil from the site, 40% sand, and 20% compost will ensure there is more than sufficient infiltration in the rain garden.

Dry Creek: The Conservancy recommended that the runoff coming from Downspout B, 131 gallons, be directed into a dry creek to slow the runoff through the garden area. The dry creek was dug to approximately 10″ deep, 12″ wide and 35′ long to allow for slow infiltration.

The dry creek design will minimize erosion from the discharge pipe and provide another method to slowly infiltrate rain water while adding an interesting feature in the landscape.
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Images from July 2014, 3 months after the installation.  New and existing plants are thriving.

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Franklin Terrace – Riparian Buffer Planting

Stormwater Capture: Approx. 2,000 GAL / TREE / YEAR
The Lancaster County Conservancy Urban Greening program recently completed a riparian buffer planting along the Conestoga Greenway and River in Southeast Lancaster City.  The purpose of the planting was two fold: 1) Increase the canopy in the neighborhood from 32% to close to 50%, creating a model for other neighborhoods.  2) Educate local residents and students about the many benefits of trees.

For details and images from the planting click here.

Over 60 volunteers from the neighborhood, McCaskey High School, and Alcoa assisted Lancaster City Housing Authority staff and volunteers in completing the planting.

In addition to the 1 acre riparian planting 40 street trees were installed last fall bringing the total to 165 trees on this 13 acre proprty.  As the trees mature they are expected to intercept 400,000 gallons of water and reduce CO2 emmisions by 65,000 lbs both on an annual bases.

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Gail Gray and her Green Values

Gail Gray, wife of Mayor Rick Gray, describes both she and her husband as products of the Depression:”I would say Depression values, of taking care of things, of recycling things, of finding a reuse for things were just part of the way we were raised,” Gray says. This ingrained passion for sustainability is obvious in the Grays’ backyard which is little grass, but all green. Two rain barrels and two composters help support their eco-friendly backyard. Gray says, “When we got married we said we would never own a lawnmower and we haven’t. I’ve always planted different things out there over the years, but we’ve always had something.”

Gray thinks perhaps the most important step of having a sustainable property is reducing lawn space. “Between the air pollution and the groundwater pollution and the waste of good water for a lawn, I just look at big lawns and I think, “You know, this is antiquated and just out of a 1950’s mindset where you just use everything,” she says.

While less lawn may be the most important physical change, Gray thinks that a changing mindset is vital to making sustainability work as well.”I think people have to feel proud of doing what they can do to conserve. You know, instead of ‘in-your-face I have money, I have resources to waste’…You have to think more of community, not just ‘It’s all about me and what I can show off that I have,’ but how much I care about the community and the people around me,” she says.

All in all, Gray thinks it’s important to note that “one person can make a difference. All of those individuals together, it really does create change.”

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Residential Dry Well: An Underground Solution

Moving to Lancaster city in 2003, Michael Clapper and Amelia Rauser were thrilled to find a home property with a large yard.  However, it was not long before the couple realized large rainstorms combined with an urban, impervious environment could pose a threat to their home, stormwater flooded their basement and they began to search for a solution.

The couple reasoned that “rain should soak into the earth”, but instead North Mary and West Orange Streets transform into “rivers” during wet weather events.  Michael and Amelia decided they needed a method of collecting rainwater that would prevent excessive runoff and allow the water sufficient time to infiltrate the ground.   The couple creatively predicted that by digging “a big hole in the ground” the rainwater would have a place to pool “until it can soak into the earth”.  The plan sounded rational and reasonable to achieve; however, the couple’s self-constructed reservoir, filled with gravel, did not prove effective in halting the stormwater from entering their basement.

Remembering the work of the Lancaster County Conservancy’s Urban Greening program, Michael and Amelia contacted Fritz Schroeder, who suggested a dry well as a potentially effective solution to their dilemma.  The project fit closely with the couple’s previous plan, but added a green infrastructure technique.  Amelia and Michael set out to remove an old pond and expanded that space to create a reservoir, measuring 5.5 X 6.5 X 3.5 feet deep and filled the space with a stormwater storage module – think plastic milk crate –  (97% void) and 6 tons of gravel (40% void) to maximize their volume capture.  The downspout that runs from the rear of the home captures approximately 1000 square feet, and a one inch rain storm yields approximately 550 gallons of water.  Accounting for the possibility of  extreme storms of more than one inch, Amelia inserted a PVC pipe drilled with holes into the gravel and stormwater storage module, which would allow excess water to come above ground and flow through the yard.

The couple stated the project was “fairly simple” to complete themselves; however, it became “more technical” as it progressed and “required 5 days of vigorous labor”.  Amelia commented that it would have been helpful if there had been “role models” to follow, “people we could have asked for advice”, it can be a “cheap project if you are willing to do the work”.

Note: An application such as a drywell or rain garden should be more than 10 feet from the foundation of your home, preferably downhill.  Always perform and infiltration test to insure your area can handle the amount of rain water you plan to capture.

Google stormwater storage module to learn more about this product.

For more information about implementing similar practices please review the Infiltration Practices Fact Sheet (PDF) or contact Fritz Schroeder with the Lancaster County Conservancy, 717-392-7891 x 207.
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Community Garden Feeds Neighbors While Capturing Rain Water

The Alley Garden, located near Eastern Market, in Southeast Lancaster City, was started in 2010 by Douglas Smith and Jessica King.  Today, the garden is shared by a group of about 12 people from the surrounding neighborhood and yields more than 30 different kinds of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Smith says since he began, “It’s all happened pretty organically. We’ve just sort of involved neighbors and kids, and whoever wants to garden here has lent a hand.”

Alley Garden is a sustainable, self-contained unit. The three rain barrels onsite are the only source of water the garden needs and uses, and the gardeners also compost on site.

Yet water conservation and composting are not all that make Alley Garden sustainable.  “We’ve tried to set this up as like a real, full-production garden because this isn’t just hobby gardening. We want to actually show people that you can feed yourself,” Smith says. For this reason, Alley Garden participants have built an enclosure for a greenhouse, and they hope to be able to harvest food well into the winter months.

In the future Smith hopes to see “all the alleys in Lancaster filled up with spaces where people are gathering to grow food.” Already, he has seen other community gardens spring up near the Alley Garden. Smith believes that gardens like Alley Garden are not places just to grow food, but community as well.

“What I think we’re trying to do here is not only be an example of how you can grow food in such a small space as this, but we’re also trying to bring people together and keep those bonds between those people who live around us.  There are a lot of big issues that we try to address through our little garden.”

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Getting to Sustainability:  From Backyard to Rooftop

It would be impressive enough to say that Suzan Matos pioneered and installed one of the first green roofs in the city herself by hauling planting soil up to the roof using a pulley system five years ago, but Matos’ sustainable backyard doesn’t stop there. A self-proclaimed “big undertaking,” Matos also created a green wall by putting up a 3-story trellis of Silver Lace Vine, tore up pavement to create more garden space, has installed permeable pavers, and has plans for at least five rain barrels. Matos is doing all she can to make her property as eco-friendly as possible and one day hopes to “get to the point where [she doesn’t] need to turn on her tap to water her garden.”

Matos knows the many practical benefits of  installing the retrofits but she stresses that it is the enjoyment she gets from both creating and living with them that is most important to her and her family. About the green roof in particular, Matos says,

“First and foremost, we love it… I think that a lot of the green practices [have] benefits… the back part of the house stays a lot cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter. My office is on the third floor [and] the reflective heat has been cut dramatically…but it’s also how you want to live and what your priorities are. My priorities are making less of an impact on the planet and where I’m living, and making our house a better house for people to live in even after we’re here.”

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Hooking Up and Saving Thousands!

It could be said that Mike Musser, who works for the Village Green, a home performance contracting company, began installing rain barrels for Lancaster City residents by accident. Musser installed a rain barrel at his own row home on Lemon Street as a summer project.The barrel was a good way to collect water for the backyard garden and to stop that water from going into the combined sewer system. But when Musser calculated that he was collecting an estimated 30 thousand gallons of water in a year from his roof, he felt compelled to tell his two next-door neighbors, who soon asked him to install rain barrels on their properties as well. Today, the three row homes together collect between 80 to 100 thousand gallons of water every year.


From that point on, Musser realized that if his neighbors were interested, that many other people might have a desire or need for a rain barrel as well. Today, he was done about 60 installations, and finds, just as he told his neighbors, that after he installs a rain barrels, he often gets callbacks from people, like “Hey, my neighbor Julie or Don or whatever installed this and we love it and how do we go about getting it?”

Musser has found that the rain barrels have an additional benefit, aside from saving water. “Our indoor plants just thrived as soon as we started using rainwater instead of tap water,” he says. “They just sprung to life.”

He says, “It is great to see people making difference and creating change in their own backyard, one gallon of water at a time.”