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Gardens Blog

Making room for nature

Do you have a pond in your garden? Space and small childrens’ safety permitting, everyone should have access to water of some kind, simply because of the pleasure it brings.

When we bought our house some 16 years ago, it came with a man-made pond, admittedly filled with sludge and leaves, but a pond nonetheless, and my co-gardener adopted it as his special project. Over the years he has cleaned up the water quality, netted the surface against autumn leaves, added and removed plants, added and removed fountains, placed stones around the perimeter, retrieved the same stones from the bottom of the pond – it is a constant source of joy and delight throughout the year.

My enjoyment of the pond stems from a childhood spent by the County Down coast, exploring the miniature world of rock pools – for surely a garden pond is simply a fresh water rock pool with its own colonies of wildlife. So I watch the newts and water-boatmen, dragonflies and damselflies, beetles and snails as they come and go around the waterlilies. This spring I was delighted to count 20 frogs of varying sizes – I do like frogs and toads – and was hopeful that after years of barrenness, our pond might once again be filled with tadpoles and the sound of frogs singing to the moon.

But one lunchtime, as I stood looking at the reflections, an arrow-shaped ripple appeared and I realised that we had company – two grass-snakes, curling and twining around each other in the sunshine. In true ‘Springwatch’ fashion, I took the arrival of a new species to be a good sign of the health of our pond and looked forward to further sightings. But what I had not counted on was the fact that our frog and newt population were dish of the day for the snakes and within a week, they had cleared the pond of every single one, and moved on.

So should I have scooped up the snakes in a net and taken them down the lane to the pond in the wood? It does beg the question of how much interference we should exercise in the management of our gardens as nature reserves. We put up bird and bat boxes, build insect lodges and butterfly houses, ladybird hotels and hedgehog homes in the hope that we will encourage wildlife to establish and stay, but how should we respond when a species appears which does not match our image of our perfect nature habitat? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that our pond is no longer filled with flickering, teeming life and, as Mother said in “The Lion and Albert”, Ee I am vexed.