by Heather Elvidge
There’s an old saying about spring— you know it’s arrived when you can put your foot on seven daisies. Well the first daises are open, so start counting now.
While you’re doing that, keep an eye open for toads. This is the best time to see them as toads are on the move, often walking for long distances to reach the pond where they grew up. There each toad will find a mate and after a period of courting, strings of eggs will be laid.
Although we think of them as great swimmers, toads and frogs spend most of their time on land. The night is spent searching for food — insects, slugs and worms — before returning to a daytime hiding place.
Either frog or toad could turn up in your garden, although a resident toad is more likely. But it could be hard to spot even when it stays in the same place for weeks. The toad’s skin will be greyish or brownish to match the local soil, plus it has the ability to stay perfectly still for hours on end.
In the past we weren’t too kind to these creatures, especially the unfortunate toad. It was thought to be a cure-all, effective even in cases of plague or smallpox.
In the 19th century, men known as “toad-doctors” were still touring country fairs. They sold toad’s legs in little cloth bags as an amulet to prevent illness. A dried frog, hung around the neck in a silk bag, was believed to prevent attacks of epilepsy.
Much prized for centuries was the toadstone, supposedly found in the head of a very old toad. When brought near a poisoned drink or placed on a bewitched person, the stone would give warning by sweating or changing colour.
For ease of use the toad-coloured stone was sometimes set in a silver ring that was handed down through the family. But in reality, these magic stones had often been created artificially.
At least there used to be lots of frogs and toads around. Today our common frog and common toad are far less common than they used to be. It’s the usual story of habitat loss — ponds filled in or polluted by run-off, hedges and ditches removed.
So if you have the room, please help our amphibians. A garden pond, even a small one, is bound to attract them sooner or later. There’s plenty of advice online. Try www.rhs.org.uk <http://www.rhs.org.uk> or www.rspb.org.uk <http://www.rspb.org.uk> or google “wildlife pond.”
March is often one of the driest months, yet it also has a reputation for surprises. “Month of many weathers,” it used to be called. Frost, hail, sleet, they’re all possible. But this year we really need March to be dry, to begin the recovery of saturated land.
Where they’ve escaped flooding, garden plants are well watered and ready. Once those buds burst they’ll really take off, so get out there and tackle those jobs now. Avoid damage to sodden lawns by standing on a plank or board. And don’t pull out all the daisies, or spring will never come to you.