Toads, Gardens, and Stuff

Look Carefully. He’s There!

Today’s picture shows one of the residents of our yard.  This little toad (here shown in his hole) has chosen to make his residence under one of the hollyhocks in the bed against our east wall.

I’m very impressed…

Why?  Because this bed is about twelve inches off the ground.  This toad stands maybe two inches tall – if he’s not lounging flat, which happens to be his preferred posture.  So, if he were a human who stood six feet tall, that would mean he would be capable of jumping thirty-six feet in a single jump.  Talk about superhero moves!

Yep!  It’s now late spring, moving rapidly into summer, and, once again, my yard is providing me with a great deal of amusement.  If I were naming the seasons, I think I’d call this one “Potential,” because everything is fresh and green, we’re putting in new plants and seeds, as well as experimenting to see if we can make what failed last year succeed this time around

Last summer was particularly hot and dry – even for New Mexico where months go by with no rain at all.  So, why do I garden?  Isn’t that wasteful?  Shouldn’t I be more ecologically sensitive?

Well, I suppose from one perspective what I do could be seen as wasteful.  It’s easy to buy vegetables cheaply in the store.  Of course, they don’t taste as good, and they aren’t as good for you, but it’s possible.  So responsible gardening provides us with better tasting, healthier food.

Jim and I are very responsible.  When it rains, we collect water.  When it doesn’t rain, we water using soaker hoses, which saturate the ground while losing less water to evaporation.  We have designated specific high use areas – all of which are either raised beds or sculpted in one way or another to preserve water.  Borders around plants and mulch are two of our most frequently used tactics.

The majority of our yard relies on low water use plants.  We even – brace yourself, especially those of you “back East” to whom weeds are anathema and a green velvet yard is the goal of many – let weeds grow.  Of course, we don’t think of them as weeds.  We think of them as native plants.

Growing native plants has several additional advantages.  They are usually adapted to low rainfall.  They provide food and shelter for birds and small animals.  (We often leave native plants to go to seed for this reason.)  They hold down the loose soil, preventing erosion from wind and rain.

True, many of New Mexico’s native plants have stickers and thorns, but we choose what plants to pull, what to leave.  After over twenty years tending this one small ecosystem, we have a lot fewer plants with stickers, a lot more with flowers and nutritious seeds.

As a result, I can pause in my writing to watch finches busily harvesting spectacle pod seeds, or robins tugging up tufts of dry grass with which to line their nests.

We also provide water – although not a lot.  We have a tiny pond and a bird bath.  However, these are enough to attract a wide variety of birds and insects, including bees.  A little later in the summer, we’ll have dragonflies and butterflies.

The fact is, human land use has removed the sagebrush, wild grasses, and the like that formerly helped keep the ecosystem able to support itself even during dry years.  So while in one way we’re still being very human, in another, we’re being ecologically sensitive, providing food, water, shelter, nesting areas – and even damp places where toads can dig their holes.

I’m off to write now but, when I need to stop and ponder the next twist of the plot, I’ll wander outside, pull a few weeds, maybe plant a few more seeds.  Thus an additional benefit of gardening is that it makes me a more productive writer – a win-win situation all around!

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