In which I Re-phrase the Problem, Explore Vernal Ponds, and Create a Plan

David Mas Masumoto’s “Epitaph for a Peach” was the first books I read that made me start thinking about local food. Since the first time I read it, which was sometime in junior high, I’ve re-read it often. Each time I read it again, and take in his lyrical words, I’ll pick up a new detail that I missed before. Yet regardless of the time that passes between opening the book back up, there is one line that stays with me. When discussing his battles with the native grasses, flowers and weeds, he writes:

But now I have very few weeds on my farm. I removed them in a single day using a very simple method. I didn’t even break into a sweat. I simply redefine what I call a weed.

Mr. Masumoto did something that brings great peace to a gardener facing a daunting problem: he just rephrased it and suddenly life seemed more manageable. For me, its not the battle to maintain a sterile field like Masumoto battled with, but the fact the lake that is still present in my yard. But few days ago, while trolling permaculture and gardening forums in search of a solution, I came across a new concept to me: vernal ponds.

flooded grass
My vernal pool, minus the awesome wetland creatures

A vernal pond is a type of seasonal wetland. Also known as ephemeral, seasonal or temporary wetlands, they are a naturally occurring feature once a common feature on the landscape. They are a low area that fills up with heavy rains, and then dries up. This wet-dry cycle prevents fish from becoming established, which allows critical breeding habitat for amphibians, crustaceans and insects.

Naturally occurring vernal pool in Missouri. photo source:

Suddenly, the fact that my garden was flooded wasn’t the problem. It was simply that I was trying to garden in the middle of a seasonal wetland!

a landscaped vernal pool photo source:
a landscaped vernal pool photo source:

While this may or may not be 100% true, as I am lacking the salamanders and the  cattails, it seems logically enough to me. Plus, it made me feel better that my issue had a name, “vernal pond” sounds much fancier than “a giant puddle”, so I’m going with this. The solution is now not to battle Mother Nature (because we know she always wins), but to work harmoniously and expand on what she was trying to do in the yard.

vernal pool
natural occurring vernal pool in a Virginia woodland, photo credit:

Now having an end goal more concrete than “get all this damn water out of the yard/into the ground/anything but the current situation”, we have come up with the steps necessary. I even had a landscaper come out and confirm this was the best idea. Once the ground dries up, we will rent a small tractor and excavate a deeper depression, about 4′ deep in the center and graduating out to a shallower depth to create a 15’x20’ish vernal pool. A series of swales (another fancy word- pretty much means a ditch) will direct water from other areas of the yard into the pool area. This will then overflow to a less deep depression in a different part of the yard, and then overflow from that though a serpentine swale. Marsh and native wetland plants will be established around the margins. Hopefully, I can recruit some salamanders, frogs and dragonflies to make their home here- they would do wonders for pest management in the garden.

flooded yard
these naturalized bulbs are most prolific in the vernal pool area

Until the ground dries, there isn’t a lot we can do but plan. So far, we’ve used sticks to mark out possible locations of the main pond, and chart the swale paths. There are two locations that are the deepest, and seem to dry out the slowest, making them the logical location.

staking area for pond
Stella helps walk the staked out swale area

What about you? Have you ever had a problem that you re-phrased to make more manageable? Do you encounter vernal pools in your area?


8 thoughts on “In which I Re-phrase the Problem, Explore Vernal Ponds, and Create a Plan

  1. What a wonderful brain switch to flip! I think all of us humans could do with some reflection like yours to assess the brain switches we have and whether we’d rather flip them…

  2. That is brilliant! Love it. Your idea to work with, rather than battle your natural habitat is wonderful. I bet you will get the frogs and insects you want.

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