In light of Froglife’s recently published paper, Mary from Kent, wrote in to us telling us about the toads in her wildlife-friendly garden
Toads in my garden
(“Build it and they will come”)
In 2007 I was in the happy position of starting a brand new garden. I love gardening, and am a plantaholic, but without wildlife the garden is just an empty stage set, so it has to be wildlife friendly. The first feature to be constructed was a pond. It’s in full sun right outside my sitting-room window, about 5m square, and almost 1m deep in the middle. There’s a shallow shelf all round the edge, and a cobble beach at one corner to provide easy access for birds and animals coming to drink or bathe. I planted up the pond: various irises and other marginals on the shelves, a couple of water lilies in the deep water, and a few different oxygenators. I haven’t installed a pump (idleness), and there are (deliberately) no fish!
As soon as there was water in the pond, wild creatures began to occupy it. The first were dragonflies and other flying insects, then I started to see newts, and the very first spring there were frogs and frogspawn. In subsequent years there would be a single strand of toadspawn. Many birds began to visit too, some just for a drink or a dip, but others to find food in or around the water.
The plants grow very vigorously and I thin them out occasionally, and in the autumn I scoop out dead leaves if they start to accumulate, but otherwise the pond is left to its own devices. The water has stayed very clear, the wildlife population has grown steadily, and pond dipping is a great favourite with my grandchildren.
Elsewhere in the garden I made a low retaining wall out of gabions (steel mesh cages) filled with flints collected from the garden, in the hope that these loose stone walls would be of use to hibernating amphibians. On each side of the pond there are densely planted borders, so that there is plenty of cover for any creature climbing out of the water. Behind the formal garden is an area of long grass, cut once or twice a year, and wild hedges and heaps of logs and stones. I occasionally use organic slug pellets, when there is no other way to get vegetable seedlings to survive, and then very sparingly, but I don’t use any other chemicals.
Which, if any, of these measures are critical I don’t know, but frog and newt numbers increased steadily, with an occasional sighting of a toad. Then in spring 2015 there were suddenly hundreds of toads. A torch was essential for any trip to the garden after dark so you could check each step before you put a foot to the ground. The water was heaving with toads, and in due course every plant stem and every pot had great braids of toadspawn wrapped round it. Then after a couple of weeks the toads vanished, literally overnight. Sometimes I’d see one in a damp spot around some pots, or in a compost heap, or in the long grass, or even occasionally up in the wood behind the garden, but just the odd one or two, never in quantity. Until this spring! The toads returned en masse again to spawn.
I cannot tell you how much pleasure my wildlife garden brings. My approach is to see a patch of land as one ecosystem, with many different life forms which have evolved together over millennia. I try to support this ecosystem from the ground up, providing food, water and shelter. I try to follow available advice on wildlife gardening, and nature’s example, and there’s certainly a lot of trial and error. Moments of success – as with the toads – are wonderful!