Where the Wild Things Are

Something magical happened the other day. While weeding a long-neglected patch, I came face to face with an Eastern box turtle -- probably a female by the look of her tall, slightly square-shaped shell. She was just over half a foot long and not at all shy. She and I regarded one another for a long while, and I decided to leave the rest of the weeds as they were so that she would have all the cover she needs. Of course, I know my city officials will disapprove
of that decision, but the longer I play in the dirt, the more I begin to realize it isn’t just the flora that makes my garden successful. It’s the fauna, too.

In other words? Gardening is no longer solely about my desire for fresh squash, basil, and gorgeous perennial bouquets. Sure, those are great delights, but running across a perfectly healthy box turtle? Considering the extent to which they’ve lost suitable habitat -- not to mention their high hatchling mortality rates -- my find was quite special. Gardening to attract wildlife has come to interest me more than ever. And, no, I’m not talking solely about everybody’s favorite migratory songbirds and butterflies.

I decided long ago that turtles, frogs, toads -- even snakes -- deserve a place in my garden just as much as any of the prettier species, and my efforts to attract them have paid off. For instance, about the time hand cultivating the potato beds really begins to wear on me, I often catch a glimpse of the giant garter snake which resides in the brush pile just behind my compost bins. (I call him Frankie, although I am not sure just why.) I saw him for the first time last year, and, as it happens, he’s already made a few more appearances this summer. I’ve really come to appreciate Frankie’s surprise visits.

And there are the occasional frogs and toads which do my garden a great service each time they eat their weight in slugs and assorted insect pests. I’ve decided to try to attract more of them by scattering extra toad houses around the outer edges of the garden, and if I’m feeling really inspired, I might even build a hibernaculum to help shelter them in winter.

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