When I dream of paradise, it begins with my wildlife garden. Since its creation, over several years it has become home to hundreds of creatures. Some are air-bound and feathered, others fly on translucent wings, some spin a yarn and use it as a magic carpet propelled by the wind. Then there are those who live in the friendly soil, others use spaces under stones and bricks. Today, I am writing about those who live in the pond, and during the night and some parts of the day, are busy patrolling their jungle, sorry, I mean garden. They are the frogs, and while they are different in colour and size, it is their curiosity, friendliness and beauty that are their most distinguishing features.
At this time of year, I am checking the pond for a clutch or two of tiny black dots surrounded by round jelly forms that are frogs’ eggs. The dots change into tadpoles after the jelly has been eaten. This is the stage of interest to young children who like to see them close up scooped in jam jars, to be released back into the pond after inspection. As my pond is full of vegetation, the metamorphosis of growing tadpoles is quick. Their menu is changing too and becoming less vegetarian to the detriment of other small creatures inhabiting the pond. The froglets acquire legs and gradually lose their tails, becoming frogs that can breathe air and leave the pond to discover the wild, wide and exciting world around them. They keep the garden free of pests and like to sit quietly by my side when I am planting and supervise my skills. I always talk to them in a companionable manner, as I do with all the creatures that I meet during my gardening time, as it isn’t important whether they understand the words, but the intention is to build trust, and that is always achieved.
Of course, most creatures including frogs have different personalities, just like humans. It is usually noticeable when I happen to be able to help one of them in need. One day passing by a stack of large terracotta pots, I caught with the corner of my eye that a frog had jumped in but could not get out, and was now panicking and distressed. I freed him and from then on he would come to keep me company while I worked. As the frogs in my garden have different colouring, it wasn’t a problem to know who I am dealing with. Over the summer, this developed into an unusual routine – the frog would follow me into the kitchen (the door being open all day), and often stay some time under the table covered with a long tablecloth before hopping back into the garden. This might have something to do with my inbred hospitality and my habit to treat him to a few titbits. One evening in early autumn I closed the door to the garden for the night and settled in the adjoining sitting room to read. Suddenly something cold and wet jumped over my arm and onto my lap. It was my friend, the frog. I helped him down and went to open the front door that was closer to the sitting room than the back door to the garden. I have a reasonably large front garden and at that time there was a passage by the side of the house to the back. My frog would have nothing to do with my lazy attempt to avoid going to the back, switching the lights on and so on.. He looked at me and stayed put at the doorstep of the sitting room and the hall. His eyes seem to reproachfully admonish me: “This isn’t the right door, and this is not my garden, don’t you know?” There was nothing for it but to close the front door and go to the back. By the time I opened the back door, the frog was already waiting by the table. But instead of hopping out, he sat on the doorstep looking into the dark garden, or perhaps even admiring the new moon. I had to prompt him to depart before being able to lock up for the night and finally get back to my reading. This is one of the countless examples of animals’ ability to reason and communicate with us, if only we could closely observe their world without our set preconceptions. I am always mindful that as we don’t know everything about our own brains, we still don’t understand the complexity of theirs.
In 2014 a new species of frogs was discovered in the rainforests of South America. He was called, understandably, the rain frog. The rain frog lives on trees and is sought by geckos and snakes as a tasty snack. What is remarkable is the frog’s ability to hide from predators by changing his colour to match the colouring of the foliage and the bark of the tree he is climbing. He disappears into the leaves mimicking not one colour but several – red, rust, green and brown, all appearing like a palette of multicoloured blobs on his skin. This evolutionary skill makes him invisible. You can almost see the surprise on the faces of his hunters – he was just here, where is he?
In winter months my frogs have many places suitable for hibernation – thick, evergreen bushes, some soft muddy corners and large piles of logs in the stumpery. Long may they reign in my wildlife kingdom of beautiful frogs.
Hillaire Belloc wrote a poem about frogs; here is a short extract:
‘No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair,
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and by the way,
They are extremely rare).