Sunday, November 14, 2010

Artificial paradise

We don't live far from a lake--maybe 1/2 mile, maybe less.  When the fish pond was filled up this summer, it wasn't long until frogs hopped by and took up residence, 5 in total.

It was a real thrill to see them basking, or leaping arcs into the water.  Seeing them in the pond felt like a validation: a froggy seal of approval for good maintenance and design.

As autumn began to descend, I wondered about the frogs.  We were planning to take the goldfish into the house for the winter and drain the pond, and it was not clear how the frogs would manage.

When we did drain the pond, we found 4 of the 5 hunkered down in a hollow undrained part, the fifth in muck at the bottom. They were hiding in low-flow areas, in water so green from algae that almost no oxygen could exist.  In other words, quite apart from our draining the main part of the pond, the condition of the water in which the frogs chose to hibernate would soon have killed them. Not only were they shrunken and lethargic--normal for hibernating frogs--but they were also covered in green goo--not normal.

We took the frogs to the lake in a bucket and let them go.  They perked up the instant the lake water touched them, the goo sluicing off, the lake water clear, the bucket water slimy. All my messing around with beneficial bacteria and filtration and calibrated pumps and clarifiers--all that was instantly shown to be insufficient to keep our little fish pond clear to the edges, the way that nature kept the lake.  Now the frogs' presence in our fish pond seemed more a sign of their own bad judgement than a seal of approval.

A tightly exclusionary fence is now being put up around the garden in an attempt to keep out rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels.  As an unintended side effect, it will also stop frogs from hopping up to the pond.  In a way, though, I'm glad.  While the main part of the pond might successfully support goldfish (those hardy creatures) the edges of the pond are no place for frogs.  Their near-fatal choice of hibernation location revealed the pond to be only a poor analogue for a natural lake.

As a dedicated gardener, I like to think I'm working on a small slice of paradise here, where the flowers and trees and vegetables flourish in a manner impossible outside of a garden.  But could comparing our little pond to the far superior big lake be a lesson about a man-made garden's relationship to the fields and streams and woods of the un-gardened world? Could our plants be as captive as our frogs, as stuck in an unsuitable environment, as (figuratively) covered in green goo?  And wouldn't that be a bitter pill for a gardener to swallow?

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