Frog life

My allotmenthood and my motherhood are intertwined. I got my first plot – actually a chance to look after a friend’s for a year or two while she went away on sabbatical – a week before I gave birth to my daughter in July 2010. I was nine months pregnant, hot and tired, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get access to an allotment after being on several waiting lists, near to different places I’d lived in London, for nearly a decade. I’d read that gardening, specifically bending and stretching with a spade or hoe, is supposed to be great for childbirth – perhaps the gentle swaying helps the baby engage. (In the end, I’m not sure it did help as I was in labour for hours, but at the time I loved the idea of it.)

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When my daughter is in the right mood, she can happily play on the allotment – or this plot at a family garden in North Yorkshire – for hours

That autumn, when she was a small baby, I took my daughter down to the plot and planted garlic and onions, harvested blackberries, and dug over beds while she slept in the pram that I’d parked on the path next to me. The following spring, when she could sit on a blanket thrown over the soil and play with toys – but wasn’t yet at the stage where she could crawl off into the brambles – I sowed peas and planted potatoes. When I got my own allotment, in April 2013, we donned wellies and spent the first day there messing around with the bare soil before racing home for hot chocolate.

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Taking a pause while planting onion sets in North Yorkshire

As she got older, she has loved the allotment less. Some children adore helping out with gardening, but mine has needed a lot of ideas to stay interested. If there are other children to play with at the site, she can stay for hours. But on our own she can easily become bored, even if I have lots of fun things for her to do. I built her a wooden playhouse to mess about in while I got on with digging – although I admit I’ve been packing it with netting and tools and using it as somewhere to keep dry in a thunderstorm. Young children have low boredom thresholds – producing potatoes or carrots from the soil, and peas or broad beans from a pod, is captivating, but an allotment does not provide this every time, and an afternoon of clearing weeds is pretty dull for a six-year-old.

So last week, in the middle of half term holiday, I was delighted when my daughter got interested in the allotment again. The reason – we were getting a pond. She may not have been bothered about vegetables or herbs, but the idea of frogs and toads coming to our plot suddenly sparked an interest.

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The preformed pond before it went in the ground

The pond liner – a preformed plastic one – was roughly 100cm by 70cm, which is one of the smallest you can buy but should be still big enough to attract wildlife. My Dad, who was staying for a few days over the holiday, turned the pond upside down on the bed and marked around the edge with a spade before digging a hole.

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Digging the hole for the pond

My daughter and her Grandad dug the hole together while I chitted the seed potatoes that arrived that morning. It took a few attempts to get the depth right – the lip of the pond should be level with the ground, or else it will get filled up with soil.

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Getting ready to dig a hole for the pond

After the hole was dug, the soil at the bottom needed to be levelled and firmed down, or else the water level would be uneven. Once the pond was in, my daughter loved guessing how many watering cans full of water it would take to fill it up (in the end, it was nearly 10).

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Filling the pond with water – my daughter said the shape at the bottom of the pond looked like a bear’s head

We then waited for the pond to settle before backfilling around the edges of the pond with compost. Later, we added stones around the edge – these will give the frogs and toads something to step onto.

I will either wait for a passing frog to lay frogspawn in our pond, but if this doesn’t happen I will ask a neighbouring plotholder to donate some from theirs. It is best to transfer only frogspawn that is from a nearby pond, in similar conditions, or else they may not take.

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Helping to backfill the gaps around the edge of the pond

Ponds need oxygenating plants to prevent the build-up of algae, provide cool shade in the summer heat and homes for wildlife. I have ordered two oxygenators that live in the water – hydrocotyle sibthorpioides variegata, or crystal confetti, a spreading perennial that forms a carpet of small green and white leaves, and eleocharis acicularis, also known as needle spike rush, which has upright tufts of bright green needles. For the margins of the pond, I have ordered mazus reptans ‘Alba’, or white Chinese marshflower, which forms mats of pretty white flowers in summer, and  iris louisiana ‘Black Gamecock’, a lustrously purple iris.

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The pond filled with water and ready for planting

After refusing to come to the plot for months, my daughter has now been to the allotment three times in as many days. I’m looking forward to her checking on the pond every time we go, waiting for the frogspawn to grow into frogs in spring and, hopefully, the dragonflies and water boatmen in summer.

 

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8 thoughts on “Frog life

  1. You don’t want boatmen they will eat the frogspawn and anything else they can catch ,and they are fast ,you won’t believe how fast ,have fun with it though

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  2. Loved reading this. My 6 year old daughter Ava is very keen to be at the allotment with me. It’s half term this week and she specifically asked if we could go to the plot. It’s a winning situation for me.. at the moment. I agree, an allotment has its moments where it’s very easy to engage little helpers. Sowing and planting. Harvesting. It’s those periods in between which isn’t as exciting for her. Most of the time Ava runs around and plays happily ( exploring jungles, saving her princess ‘sister’!) Or digging for worms. It helps that I pack some other things to occupy her too. Snacks and packed lunches help too 😊 Must consider a pond on our plot. It’s a wonderful idea. Thanks.

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  3. Hi Jane, I enjoyed reading your blog. Our children were brought up to garden, but lost interest as they got older. Our grandchildren used to enjoy the allotment, but also lost interest as they got older. One time I helped them make a den at the top of the plot where there is big tree. They loved that for a while. I hope Amelia enjoys the pond. There is no easy solution to keeping the interest going, but she will remember her time spent on the allotment and when she is older her interest may return. It did with my own children.

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    1. Hi Margaret, I think you’re right- I remember being interested in my Dad’s allotment when he was a child but then when I became a teenager I lost interest. Got back into gardening in my 20s. (My Dad still has the allotment!)

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