While I cannot speak to the reasons to how or why the garden got to this point, I can only say that the year we took over the house, a walk in our backyard was what I imagine might feel like a walk through a lush rain forest.
It was soothing for the senses to see Mother Nature at work like that, with so much greenery billowing in the breeze.
But the bottom line was that the garden was out of control with plants growing into each other or suffocating each other. It was like plant wars, witnessing the survival of the fittest first hand. Nonetheless, the potential for a really nice garden was definitely there.
Trying to stay on top of the weeds was the impossible dream for us, cautiously putting in an hour here and there, on weekends, weather permitting, when the mosquito count was low, without upsetting the delicate balance of degenerating back conditions. Aging sucks!
It was an incredibly validating exercise to see that it took three young people, a small tractor and two very full days to whip the garden back into shape!
By the time that the crew had completed the work, our gardens were finally a source of pride rather than a source of embarrassment. The curb appeal was returning and we expect it will improve further over time as new growth fills in the spaces vacated by the former plants having near-death experiences.
In strolling through our tidy flower beds, I was pleased to see the number of hosta plants that populate the landscape. This will help keep the overall appearance fresh, lush and full, while still keeping the garden as low-maintenance as possible.
However, I know how slugs eat their way through hosta leaves leaving them full of little holes, which become bigger holes, and ending the season looking jagged and rough.
To preserve the appearance of the hosta plants (as well as our freshly rejuvenated garden), I took to the internet for advice on keeping the slugs under control, as naturally as possible.
In my last place, I had tried the idea of leaving a shallow dish of beer out to attract the slugs. The principle is that they are attracted to the beer and once they step up to the “bar”, they drown in the dish of beer. It worked… to a point.
But now, given the size of our rural garden, I may need a liquor licence to serve up that much beer. And truly, why waste perfectly good beer on insects?
A few sites recommended attracting toads as a natural defense against slugs. Toads do not eat plant matter and feed on many different types of invasive insects. It sounded win-win.
I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t already experienced relaxing, zen moments of gardening, deeply in the moment, and then squealing when something suddenly jumped through the plants and weeds. It’s actually happened a few times, so I know that we already have toads… YAY!
A few sites recommended creating a welcoming environment (and hopefully keeping them around longer to take care of excess insects). A toad house, also referred to as a toad hotel was suggested.
In its simplest form, it is a shelter located in a quiet location, made out of a vessel like a clay pot sitting on its side, with some leaves and water nearby. A quick Pinterest search revealed how some people go to great lengths to add signage and bling to their structures. For something that will be out of sight, I figured I’d keep it simple, at least for now.
In looking through our collection of used flower pots, I found a damaged clay pot with most of the bottom missing. I was delighted at the prospect of repurposing a pot that would have otherwise been discarded.
I found a nice quiet spot behind one of our larger shade gardens, where a number of hostas thrived. I dug a hole just deep enough to bury the bottom third of the pot, but keeping the upper 2/3 above ground. Once I moved the displaced soil back to cover the lower third, it already looked like it was meant to be there.
I placed a layer of mulch from our little wood chipper to help elevate the “living space” off the ground, and then for bedding material, I put out some maple leaves from a branch that had just fallen.
To create a water source, I used a plastic lid that was in the recycle bin as a temporary measure. My plan is to replace it with a clay saucer from the dollar store.
Whether a toad (or even a family of toads) actually uses it, remains to be seen. Either way, it’s not intrusive to the overall aesthetic of our garden. If someone should happen to spot it, I think it holds a little charm and a story to explain why it is there.
Much like any residential developer, I struggled with selecting the right location. I wanted it to be as far away as possible from potential predators, like the tree where a raccoon is known to slumber, or a hole in the ground suspected to have been home base for a fox last spring. Meanwhile, I would like the toad hotel as close to the food source (i.e., our garden) as possible, to shorten their commute. Fingers crossed that I made the right decision.
Whether my toad hotel actually attracts a clientele or not, my plan is to set up a second toad hotel in another corner of the yard where a toad jumped out at me last year. I assume that is a good indicator of their preferred trajectory and where a second branch of our new hotel chain might get visitors.
If the toad hotels are indeed successful, my hope is to keep attracting these little helpers with free room and board, to help protect our hosta plants, our garden and in turn, our investment in landscaping.
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