I can’t remember the pond ever having been at such a low level. The late Johnny Copland, my first horticultural mentor, when extolling the virtues of the Shetland climate, always topped his priority list with the absence of severe droughts. I’ve never seen such deep cracks in the soil – I can stick a trowel blade up to its full length into those fissures that net the land like the vast and complex web of some malign arachnid.
Quite a few tadpoles are still at the “singing” stage, lying on their backs, filtering plankton. They look ridiculous in their grey-spotted plumpness and those tiny, constantly opening and closing vertical mouths – rather like a miniature caricature of an elephant seal. A manifold increase in ridiculousness takes place when that vast mottled belly starts sprouting a pair of pathetically spindly hind legs.
And then the great transformation takes place; a second pair of legs appears, that Falstaffian corpulence vanishes, and as the body slims down, reptilian lines and spots appear along the tiny creature’s back. A day or two later it’s suddenly grown a head complete with a wide frog’s mouth, and is ready to leave the water for the land – a miniscule, still-tailed frog, a tail providing nourishment during those harsh days of acclimatisation to a new element.
The low water level exposed bands of ugly black pond liner – hot, sticky and lethal to brand new froglets when warmed by the sun.
So there was nothing for it but to place flat stones, bits of wood, and where steepness prevented the positioning of those, pulling layers of predator net over the lethal black stuff.
When tadpoles grow their lungs, they turn from harmless vegetarians to fierce carnivores. Not only are they ravenously hungry all the time, but they are complete strangers to gratitude. They devour the cat biscuits I throw them, turning the water into a seething, wriggling dark mass. They also use the biscuits as lilos, as they paddle across the pond, before proceeding to eat the tails and fins of young fish. Some of those poor creatures look alarmingly gnawed and tatty. Minute frogs have left the pond in droves, but there are still far too many tadpoles feasting on Piscean extremities.
Next spring, I shall think twice about organising another tadpole rescue mission, unless they promise to leave my fish alone.
And while I’m on my favourite watery subject, I’m delighted to announce that there are still fish in my pond – survivors of the March otter massacre. Sardino, the runt goldfish Anna and I bought last autumn, is not only alive and kicking, but randy, and in hot pursuit of the new ghost carps and blue shubunkin. Late in the evenings some fish – mostly tiny ‘invisibles’ – the offspring of my original shubunkin given me by High Maintenance Husband – decide to rise for food. Others just flash past, close to the surface, still a little shy. My heart missed a beat at one such flash – Bulgakov – my striped carp, reported missing, believed dead, is very much alive.
We’ve had a little rain now, enough to settle the dust and to give the vegetables and weeds a boost. Established plants don’t need watering, but those in containers and newly planted – as far back as March – keep drying out and I’m deeply thankful we have no hosepipe bans in Shetland. I’d probably have died of exhaustion by now.
The garden looks good – it isn’t perfect, but I’m actually quite pleased with most of it, which is a most unnatural state. Must make some improvement plans without further delay…
If you, like I, still have embarrassingly bare patches in your garden, a cat, placed strategically, brings instant improvement.