Deep Forest: Exploring the Heart of Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica . . .

March 20th, 2013 § 2

Eyelash Viper, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comThis Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii), is a mostly arboreal/nocturnal resident of Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica. Though its venom is highly toxic, this snake is non-aggressive and its bite is rarely fatal to humans. Still, I observed the colorful beauty from a distance and zoomed in with my camera for a close-up look. Learn more about this gorgeous snake at The Encyclopedia of Life, online here.

Happy Spring! We passed through the Vernal Equinox at precisely 7:02 A.M. (EDT) March 20, 2013 in the Northern Hemisphere today, but I’m celebrating the change of seasons in beautiful Costa Rica (on CST). This week’s adventures included a hike through Cahuita National Park, in the far southeastern corner of this Central American country. Located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the equator, Costa Rica’s climate is tropical. With stable temperatures year round, the seasons here are defined by rainfall. Currently, Costa Rica is in its dry season, however with many microclimates —defined mainly by geographic region and elevation— there are plenty of cool, moist rain forests to explore throughout the year. Having spent time in the northwestern part of Costa Rica last winter —see my previous posts here— this time we focused on the wildlife-rich, Caribbean side of the country.

Costa Rica is well-known throughout the world for its biodiversity and environmental awareness. Twenty-five percent of Costa Rican land is held by the national park system, which is where I’ve been spending most of my days. Although comparatively small, I found Cahuita National Park to be remarkably diverse. Snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, birds, monkeys, coati, sloth and a wide variety of other animals are easy to spot in the early morning hours, even without the valuable assistance of a guide. Take a peek at just a few of the colorful, curious inhabitants I observed in Cahuita National Park!

Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Rainforest, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comThe Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas), perhaps the most famous resident of the Costa Rican rainforest, may look fierce but is non-venomous and completely harmless. Mostly nocturnal, this little fella startles would-be predators by flashing its bright red eyes and exposing its colorful toes. Learn more on National Geographic’s website here.

Golden Silk Spider, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comWhen I first spotted the web of the Golden Silk Spider (Nephila clavipes), above my head in Cahuita National Park, I thought the gold color of the silk was merely sunlight playing on the delicate threads. Imagine my surprise when I leaned in for a closer look! Not only is her web gorgeous, the artist is a real stunner as well! Although the spider will bite if threatened, it is completely harmless. I find arachnids fascinating and this one, with a golden web, is especially beautiful. Learn more about the Golden Silk Spider here.

Sara Longwing Butterfly, Rainforest, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The Sara Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius sara) has two sides. The moment I happened to snap this photo, the wings opened, appearing blue, black and white. When closed, the wings are red, black and white. For more information, and a photo of the closed wings, click here.

Green-and-Black Poison-Dart Frog, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Famous for its toxic skin —long used by native Central and South Americans to create lethal arrows— the Green-and-Black Poison-Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) is harmless to humans, unless touched. Learn more about this beautiful amphibian on the Michigan Museum of Zoology Website here.

White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Highly social and undeniably entertaining, White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus), groom one another as they greet park visitors near the beach. Learn more about the White-Faced Monkey here.

White Nosed Coati Nasua narica Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The White-Nosed Coati (Nasua narica) is a raccoon-like carnivore. Intelligent and opportunistic, these clever mammals are quick to snatch and run off with an inattentive and unsuspecting hiker’s lunch! Learn more about this mischievous resident of Costa Rica, here.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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A Surprise Visit from the Gray Treefrog: Musical Chameleon of the Native Forest

August 19th, 2012 § 4

Wait… Is That Lichen on My Chair? Luckily, I Spotted This Tiny Member of the Arboreal Choir (Hyla versicolor), in the Nick of Time!

If you live in North America, chances are you’re more familiar with the springtime song of gray treefrogs (Hyla versicolor), than you are with the colors and patterns of this amphibian’s chameleon-like skin. The gray treefrog is a tiny creature —measuring less than 2″ long— and with its highly-effective camouflage, it often escapes detection. In fact, these little fellas blend in so well with their surrounding environment, I nearly mistook one for lichen on my old lounge chair. Luckily — just before sitting down— I paused to get a closer look at the “lichen” growing on my chair. Well… Hello friend!

In Addition to Its Chameleon-Like Coloration, the Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) Has Beautiful, Distinctive Markings on Its Back, Sides, Head and Legs

The North American Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) is most famous for the bird-like, musical trills made by male frogs during the mating season (click here to listen), but its ability to change color  —much like a chameleon— is another unique characteristic. Depending upon its surroundings, the tree frog’s skin will change color within seconds; from nearly white to nearly black, as well as various shades of green, gray and brown in between. The treefrog is a great garden-friend, consuming a wide range of insects; including flies, beetles and caterpillars.

Learn more about the gray treefrog by visiting AmphibiaWeb, linked here.

Listen to the Gray Treefrog at Mister-Toad’s Website linked here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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All Hail the Prince…

June 12th, 2012 § 5

Prince Pickerel has Returned to His Summer Home in My Secret Garden

His Highness, Prince Pickerel of The Secret Garden, has returned to his summertime throne. You may recall earlier mentions of this copper-clad charmer from summers past; particularly this post on the pickerel frog, from August 2010.

Welcome Home! All Hail the Prince!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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The Secret Garden’s Shadowy Allure & Mysterious Prince Pickerel’s Charms…

August 3rd, 2010 § 7

Prince Pickerel at the Edge of the Water Bowl in the Secret Garden – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cool, quiet and calm; a shady oasis whispers seductively on hot summer days. While blazing orange and yellow hues burn bright as wildfire in the meadow, my Secret Garden shimmers like an emerald in the dappled light beneath a steel balcony. High walls, constructed seven years ago by artist Dan Snow, are now veiled with verdant moss and delicate, lacy vines. In mid-summer, emerging as if from a fairytale, the reigning prince of the Secret Garden is the beautiful, copper-tinted pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris), who resides in and around the water bowl at the foot of the entry wall. Although he is usually quite shy, I have been catching glimpses of him now and again, as he basks in the late afternoon light.  Yesterday, just before sunset, he paused long enough for me to snap a quick photo. And isn’t he just enchanting? I am absolutely fascinated by frogs. Their gorgeous colors and soothing voices are charming of course, but I also value the frogs’ beneficial role in controlling insects and slugs in my garden.

The pickerel frog —commonly found in the United States from the midwest on east to the coast— is a particularly interesting species. After a bit of research, I discovered that this is the only poisonous frog native to the US. But don’t worry, the pickerel frog isn’t harmful, he simply produces a skin-secretion to protect himself from predatory birds, reptiles and mammals. This toxic substance is quite poisonous to many small animals —including other frogs, which will die if kept in captivity with pickerel frogs— but it is only mildly irritating to a human’s skin (it’s always wise to wash your hands after examining a pickerel frog, or any wildlife for that matter). The pickerel’s surprising defense mechanism might explain why he is able to survive in my garden alongside the ribbon and garter snakes, as they are both well-known predators of both frogs and toads.

Welcome to my Secret Garden, Prince Pickerel…

A Peek Inside the Secret Garden – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Foreground plantings: Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ and Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’)

The Hidden Secret Garden Door – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Foreground plantings include Daphne ‘Carol Mackie” and at the wall: Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Galium odoratum)

The Water Bowl at the Secret Garden Door – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings include foreground: Glaucidium palmatum, Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’, and to the background: Euphorbia, Hosta ‘August Moon’ and Fothergilla gardenii)

Glossy Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ at the Foot of the Secret Garden Wall – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

The Secret Garden Shady Oasis from the August Sun – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plants from left to right Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Helleborus x hybridus, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon’)

The Secret Garden, Viewed from the Balcony Above ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Background Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon’, Foreground: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)

Secret Garden Vignette – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Foreground Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ and Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, Background: Matteuccia pensylvanica. Potted is Hedera helix ‘Variegata’)

Colors and Patterns Carpet the Secret Garden Floor – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings: Lamium macuatum ‘Orchid Frost’, Hosta ‘August Moon’, and Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Atropurpurea’)

A Glimpse of the Garden from the Balcony – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Plantings left to right: Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon”, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Stewartia pseudocamillia, Matteccia pensylvanica)

Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ in the Secret Garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’ clamoring up the Secret Garden Wall – Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Other plantings include Cimicifuga racemosa, Hosta ‘August Moon’, and in pots: Agapanthus, Hosta ‘Remember Me’ and Asparagus densiflorus)

Secrets within the Secret Garden – Streptocarpus ‘Black Panther’ Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE  (Read more about the ‘Black Panther’ in the post “Hello Lover” here…)

A Glimpse at the Sunlight Beyond the Secret Garden Door ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Two Worlds, Divided by a Moss-Coverd Wall – Standing at the Secret Garden Threshold ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Plantings to the edge of the walk include, to the left: Euphorbia and Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby”, and to the right, again B. ‘Bressingham Ruby’, and Filix femina ‘Lady in Red’

Rosa ‘Bibi Maizoon’ Blooming at the Secret Garden Door ⓒ Michaela at TGE

View to the Wildflower Walk from the Secret Garden Steps ⓒ Michaela at TGE (Wildflowers in bloom: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ and Adenephora confusa)

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Inspiration from my childhood: “Der Froschkönig” from Grimms Märchen

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett and Inga Moore

The Secret Garden on DVD in Keep Case

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Image excerpts from reviewed publications and/or products are copyright as noted and linked.

All other images and article © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

The Secret Garden at Fercliff is the author’s design and installation.

For more images of my Secret Garden (throughout the seasons) see the Ferncliff page at left – or type Ferncliff into the search box. All images here, (with three noted exceptions) are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. Except in the case of critical and editorial review and/or notation, photographs and text on this site may not be reproduced without written consent. If you would like to use an image online, please contact me before posting! With proper attribution, I am usually happy to share (See ‘contact’ at left). Thank you for respecting my work and copyrights.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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A Year in the Life of a Gardener: Celebrating Our First Anniversary and Giving Thanks to All of You…

April 1st, 2010 § 4

Snowdrop I © 2010 Michaela at TGE – all rights reserved

One year ago this month, I started keeping an online journal -somewhat sporadically at first- and I named it The Gardener’s Eden. What began as a labor of love, and a way to share information with my gardening friends and clients, has quickly blossomed into a beautiful web of friendship across many time zones and continents. Most of you know me simply as Michaela, a somewhat quirky gardener living on a mountaintop in Vermont. Some of you have met me in person and we have become friends; maybe we met in a meeting, or perhaps we were briefly acquainted at one of my gardening seminars or workshops. A great number of you have never met me at all. It’s possible that you first heard about this online journal from a gardening friend, or you may have found me through another blog. Many readers have connected to The Gardener’s Eden through social networking sites, where you have encouraged my writing and photography with thoughtful comments, and propelled me forward with article suggestions and challenging, thought-provoking questions. And dear readers, in only a year, you have grown from a small handful of devoted followers to a relatively large audience numbering in the thousands. Some of you chime in regularly through blog comments, or on Facebook or Twitter, but the vast majority of you follow along quietly. It’s nice knowing that you are out there, and I am so grateful for your company…

Crocus © 2010 Michaela at TGE – all rights reserved

Snowdrop II © 2010 Michaela at TGE

If you have been following along for awhile, then you are likely aware that in addition to creating and maintaining Ferncliff -the garden I often feature here- I also work professionally as both a gardener and garden designer. My line of work is seasonal in New England, and although I do a bit of ornamental pruning work in late winter, there is a long, quiet period from November through March. In years past, I have found that the winters pass very slowly -but that has changed. This year was less lonely, with all of you keeping me company…

Melting Ice on the Frog Pond © 2010 Michaela at TGE

And now that spring has finally arrived -ice melting and bulbs blooming- I have returned to my seasonal gardening work. Today, as I headed out for my first day of spring clean up at a client’s garden, I found myself thinking about all of you. As I clipped back ornamental grasses, and dodged emerging narcissus and blooming hellebores, I wondered about how I will find the time to share everything with you in the coming weeks. This is a busy time of the year – and it is a beautiful time of the year. Things happen so quickly in early spring. I always feel a bit breathless trying to keep up.

Today at my garden, Ferncliff, the first ‘Tommies’, (Crocus tommasinianus), opened in the bright sunshine; all puffy, golden pollen and silky lavender petals. And after all of the heavy rain and today’s warm temperatures, the vernal pools sprang to life beyond the vegetable garden. I thought I was being sneaky, tip-toeing down the hillside with my camera -but I was wrong. As soon as my shadow extended across the sparkling melt-water, dozens of frogs and salamanders squiggled, hopped and wiggled into the muck and mire below the surface. But I waited. And I waited. And slowly the frogs rose to the surface for air…

Seasonal Pool © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frog in the Melting Pond Water © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Seasonal Pool II © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frog Swimming Away © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Welcome sweet April. Doesn’t it finally feel like spring now? A new year is just beginning; filled with hope and promise. But, who really knows what the future will bring. I like to breathe in the fresh air of the moment. We are all just passing through, and… isn’t it a lovely ride?  Thank you for joining me. I hope you will find beauty here in The Gardener’s Eden. Sharing my little slice of paradise with you gives me great joy…

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Words and Pictures copyright 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All Rights Reserved.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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The Calming Echoes of Nature – Soothing Sounds During a Sometimes Hectic Holiday Season…

December 14th, 2009 § 5

Echoes of Nature Morning Songbirds

Echoes of Nature: Morning Songbirds

I am about to head out to do a bit of holiday shopping this evening, which unfortunately means that I will be confronted with relentlessly loud music and overbearing crowds. And you know, as much as I enjoy this season of giving, I sometimes find all the bright lights and chaos unnerving. Just thinking about this sensory overload and potential unpleasantness was giving me a bit of a headache, when all of a sudden I remembered the great CD set I received as a holiday gift last year. Oh what relief. I am taking this with me in the car! The sounds of bird song, frogs, thunderstorms, crickets, wolves and more, (recorded by various naturalists), were collected by Delta Music and packaged as a set of 5 CDs. I loaded them onto my computer, and into my ipod, and then I listened to them all winter when I was writing or painting. I am so glad I remembered those CDs – what a pleasure soft, natural sounds will be when I exit noisy Target !

I am most familiar with the “Echoes of Nature” series, which I have pictured and linked here. But there are several other collections, including “Sounds of the Earth”. My favorite from this company is the collection “Morning Birds” pictured and linked below. All of these recordings are without human voice or music – just pure natural sounds…

Morning Birds

Sounds of the Earth: Morning Birds

Thinking about the bird song and natural sound sets reminded me of an interesting gift I gave to my dad last year. My father loves birds and gardening. I was excited when I found The Backyard Birdsong Guide books, pictured below, to help him learn to identify various birds by song as well as by visual cues. These books are very easy and fun to use. You simply dial in the corresponding number to the species on the page, and push a button to listen. My father loves these books, (he liked them so much that I picked up the bird-song calendar for him later).

Almost all gardeners are bird lovers, so these books and CDs make great holiday gifts. I should also mention that these audio field guide books are produced by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so they are also fantastic teaching tools for nature lovers and gardeners of all ages. One of the keys to preserving and protecting nature is learning about it; something I feel very strongly about. But beyond the educational and relaxation value, I have to be honest – these books are also a good time. I won’t go into all of the kooky things I do with mine, (OK, so they involve the cat), but let’s just say they are an awful lot of fun over the long, long, winter…

Backyard Birdsong Central and Western NA

The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Western North America

Backyard Birdsong Book Eastern and Central

The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Eastern and Central North America (Backyard Birdsong Guides)

Birdsong from Around the World

Bird Songs From Around the World: Featuring Songs of 200 Birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Push and Listen)

These other non-bird centered CDs feature the sounds of the forest, (“American Wilds” has rain showers, frogs, crickets, wolves, cicadas and ambient forest sounds), frogs and thunderstorms. I noticed when I looked my titles up online, that many others get great reviews as well – but I have only heard the ones listed here. If you are curious, you can sample the sounds online through the links, and if you enjoy them, you can always download a few for yourself as a mid-winter pick-me-up when things get really cold and silent outside…

Echoes of Nature American Wilds

Echoes of Nature: American Wilds

Echoes of Nature Frog Chorus

Echoes of Nature: Frog Chorus

Thunderstorms

Echoes of Nature: Thunderstorm

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All content on this site, (exclusive of notation), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

As a matter of personal integrity, all product and book reviews on this site are purely editorial. No payment of any kind is received for mention here. However, The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate, and any purchases you make at Amazon by accessing the store through the links on this site will help to support The Gardener’s Eden, at no cost to you, by netting a small percentage of the sale. Thank you for your support!

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Art Inspired by Nature – Tim Geiss “Looking at You, Looking at Me”

September 16th, 2009 § 2

BWfrog Geiss 2009.05.22.13.03.21_frog.macro_0005

Frog, 2009, Tim Geiss

Welcome to the first installation of what I hope will become a weekly series, “Art Inspired by Nature”, on The Gardener’s Eden. As a gardener and nature-lover, I constantly find myself face to face with the beautiful, strange, and awe inspiring world around me. Sometimes I am moved by the beating wings of a butterfly, other times I am drawn in to the color of stone and then stunned to find a perfectly preserved, paper-white snake skin. I never know what I will find in the garden, and this unpredictable aspect of my work thrills me. I am also a visual artist, and recently I visited The Clark museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts to see ‘Through the Seasons, Japanese Art in Nature‘ and ‘Dove/O’Keeffe: Circles of Influence‘, (more on this show later). What I saw at the museum that day inspired me to connect with other artists, (photographers, sculptors, painters, potters, and more), in an effort to share their amazing work with you here on The Gardener’s Eden.

Looking. Looking very closely at the world around me has taught me a great deal. What better way to begin this series than with a collection of photographs focused on eyes? I present to you, “Looking at You, Looking at Me”. Meet photographer Tim Geiss. Tim is a natural observer. What I love most about his work is the instinctive way he approaches photography. There is a spontaneous, child-like quality to Tim’s images. To me, this is art in its purest form. Curiosity. Observation. Appreciation. Repulsion. Fascination. Expression.

Enjoy Tim’s work. May it inspire you and move you, as nature has inspired and moved human beings for all of time…

2009.09.09.17.21.07_frog.maine.camp_0008

Eye, 2009, Tim Geiss

dragon fly eyes

Dragon Fly, 2009, Tim Geiss

2008.06.22.11.06.53_cicada_00025

Cicada, 2008, Tim Geiss

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All photographs copyright 2008-2009, Tim Geiss. These photos are the property of Tim Geiss and may not be used under any circumstances without the artist’s consent. To contact Tim Geiss, please visit……  www.poltergeiss.com

Like this series? Please leave your comments here on the forum by clicking on the title bar and then scrolling down to the bottom of the page. I am sure Tim would love to hear from you!

Stay tuned. Every Wednesday, The Gardener’s Eden will feature the work of a talented artist inspired by nature !

Are you an artist inspired by nature, or do you know one? Would you like to be featured here? Send your information/links to The Gardener’s Eden – See “Contact” at left…

*All content on this site, (exclusive of guest photography), is the property of  The Gardener’s Eden*

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

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Maybe the Princess was On to Something: A Gardener Falls in Love with Reptiles & Amphibians, Scales, Warts & All . . .

July 8th, 2009 § 2

frogPhoto ⓒ Michaela at TGE

While I have certainly kissed my fair share of frogs in life, I can not say that any of them turned into princes. However I have never tried to kiss the warty, slimy amphibians residing in my garden, so it may be that they are the true royalty after all. And though I have always appreciated the beauty of a snake from afar, I am afraid I must be honest about my instinctive feelings toward those slithery creatures made famous by the Garden of Eden. Let’s just say we haven’t, historically speaking, been chums. But times change and people change, and sometimes it turns out that the creatures you find most repulsive can truly become your best friends.

garter-snakeEastern garter snake – Photo ⓒ John Miller

Take my new pal the garter snake for example. Mild mannered and rather shy, this helpful reptile is now a most welcome guest in my garden. Truth be told though, correcting my attitude toward the garter wasn’t exactly easy. Although it isn’t fair, we often pre-judge individuals by their kin, and the snake family and I have a somewhat checkered past. Our trouble began long-ago, in a childhood incident with a black rat snake. Playing in the backyard, I inadvertently stepped on or otherwise threatened this harmless creature and, in self-defense, it struck me with a painful bite. I no longer remember the details of this encounter, but apparently the bite mark on my arm frightened my parents enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room, where they were relieved to discover that the bite was non-poisonous. Perhaps if I had become a more sedentary, contemplative child, this would have been an isolated event. But no, this was not my destiny. As the years of my country-childhood went by, my arms and legs were punctured on various occasions by serpents, not that they were in any way to blame for our quarrels. I am afraid that on each and every instance, the snake was either stepped on or mishandled by yours truly. Eventually my curiosity turned to aversion, and from there it slid on down to genuine dislike. By the time I began gardening, I had come to loathe all snakes, (this attitude due to fear and ignorance on my part), and considered them my enemy.

Humans can be so foolish. As the years passed, and my work and studies took me further into horticulture, I found that avoiding snakes was all but impossible. Fueled by a desire to conquer my fears, I decided to investigate the snake, and educate myself about the various kinds I might encounter in the wild. As it turns out of course, snakes are pretty wonderful and amazing creatures. Some snakes, such as the brown snake, live on a diet consisting mainly of slugs and snails. Brown snakes are not biters; usually they will release a foul, musky-odor in order to defend against attack. Likewise, the passive ring-neck snake is an excellent predator of that ruinous garden slug. The common garter snake, as well as the smooth green snake, northern red belly and worm snakes are all serious insect eaters. How fantastic is that? Non-toxic, environmentally friendly and all-natural: these snakes are the perfect garden-guardians. Even larger snakes, (such as the black racer, eastern hognose, and my original “enemy” the black rat snake), are extremely helpful to gardeners because they control populations of destructive mice and moles. Rodent-eating snakes are more likely to strike at humans when threatened, but in spite of an unpleasant sting, most are quite harmless. Unfortunately countless snakes are killed every year. Often this violent action is a knee-jerk response to the same fear and ignorance I carried with me for years. Now that I am a friend to the snake, I try to educate my friends and neighbors whenever I can. Most snakes provide us with natural control of insects and rodents, creatures human beings often attempt to eliminate with toxic substances that poison our air, food, soil and water. Helpful snakes will make themselves at home in stonewalls, woodpiles, stumps and other cool shelters in your garden. From these safe-havens, they will patrol for insects and slugs, helping protect you and your garden while maintaining a balance in the natural world. If you want to attract beneficial snakes to your yard, observe potential spaces to create snake-friendly habitat. Keeping some “wild” zones on your property and safe, cool hiding spots will encourage snakes to make a home in your garden.

Of course, not all snakes are as defenseless as those I have just mentioned. Some snakes have highly toxic venom, and they should be considered quite dangerous. In New England, where I garden, hike and play in the outdoors, poisonous snakes are virtually non-existent. The timber rattlesnake and the copperhead are the only two poisonous snakes living here, and they are considered rare or even endangered in some states. This is not true however, for other parts of North America or the world.  In fact in some areas, poisonous snake populations are a serious threat to pets, small children and adults alike. If you live in an area with poisonous snakes, it is best to educate yourself about their preferred habitat and environment in order to deter their presence near your home.  It is always a good idea to learn how to identify the creatures living around you, and respect their rightful place in the world.

The amphibian is another unsung garden hero. Unfortunately, many people are still repulsed by the thought of slimy pond-water filled with tadpoles and slippery frogs. While I have always liked salamanders, frogs and toads, I have only recently become interested in working on their PR campaign. Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and their cousins are all excellent insect hunters. Some research claims that a single toad can consume over 100 insects per day!

Frogs are identified by their smooth, slippery skin, webbed feet, long hind-legs and bulging eyes. They like to live in and around water, where they lay clusters of eggs. Toads, conversely, have dry, warty skin, squat, stubby bodies, short hind-legs and glands between their eyes. Toads lay eggs in long chains in and around water. These two amphibious creatures are mainly carnivorous, and eat an extraordinary number of insects every day. In order to encourage their presence, some people like to place purchased toad-houses in their gardens, to provide these garden-friends with cool shelter from the sun and protection from predators. Toad shelters can also be created at home with old flower pots tipped to the side and concealed with twigs an branches, or naturally, with piles of stones and logs. Beware that toads can become ‘trapped’ inside houses without backdoors when pursued by snakes or other hunters. So, be sure to provide your warty friend with a second exit to the shelter. Frogs are most attracted to gardens with water features. Ponds and garden-pools are ideal for frogs of course, but even a sheltered water-bowl or dish will provide the moisture a frog needs. The same conditions attractive to frogs and toads are also pleasing to salamanders. As organic gardeners, the environment we provide is much safer and more hospitable to amphibians and reptiles than places where toxic pesticides and herbicides are used. Many of the chemicals in these products, as well fertilizer combinations used in inorganic lawn care, can kill amphibians, make them sterile or drive them off. A few minutes spent watching a frog capture mosquitoes should be enough to convince anyone to protect this garden prince from a toxic world.

Snakes and amphibians do not get particularly good PR rap in our culture. Its really up to all of us to change that. These days, when I see a child instinctively recoil from a reptile or amphibian, I think of my own experience and try to encourage a more positive, cautious curiosity. I like to point out that these animals will not harm us, (and in the case of snakes, will not strike unless we threaten them), and that they are helpful to us by eating the mosquitoes biting us and the slugs destroying our vegetable plants. The seeds of my irrational fears were sown in childhood, and it took many years of self-discipline and education to overcome my dislike of snakes. I would like to spare others from such a fearful relationship with any animal. While a fast moving serpent can still make me jump, (OK, perhaps even scream), I now quickly recover and laugh at myself as I return to my work in the garden. The snake may surprise me, but I know it is a natural helper and garden-friend.

ribbon snakeA Northern ribbon snake on my front terrace. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

For help with identification, or for more information about snakes in New England, visit The Snake Lady of Rhode Island‘s website. For information about all North American reptiles, including snakes, turtles and more, visit the National Biological Information Infrastructure website. In addition, information and help with identifying snakes in North America may be found by visiting the excellent snake identification webpage developed by Doug Henderson and Dennis Paulson for the Slater Museum of Natural History.

For more information on amphibians, such as the frogs, toads and salamanders of North America, visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center’s Checklist of Amphibian Species and Identification Guide.

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1st garter snake photo copyright Diane and John Miller, courtesy of The Old Schoolhouse Plantery

All other photos and article copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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