My friend Vickey C. once gave me a few plants of Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) for my shady back yard. I planted it and didn’t notice it again until months later – when I found it had already engulfed six of my prized ferns and was headed for my azalea patch. Three plants had become three dozen in very short order and, years later, I’m still fighting to eliminate it under my hydrangeas.
Long-time gardeners can think of many times when unexpected results rewarded their efforts. I recently received such a story from Theresa Schrum, Plant Rescue Coordinator for the Georgia Native Plant Society. It tickled my funny-bone and I thought you might find in it a cautionary tale as spring approaches.
What started out as a gardening experiment has turned into a “Darwinian” nightmare for me!
Last year I wanted an in-ground water garden, but lacking a proper site in full sun, decided to try a container water garden. I purchased a half-barrel sized plastic container, filled it with water, added a pickerel plant, a water lily and some other no-name plant. While on a native plant rescue, I spotted a beautiful rush near a stream and decided to add it to the collection. In no time, I had a lovely container water garden!
Several weeks later, I noticed that there were tadpoles swimming in it. How wonderful! Something for the kids to look at. The tadpoles can turn into frogs, climb on the plants and leave when they are ready. Then there were snails. Lots of them. A couple of weeks later, while observing the tadpoles and snails, I saw three fish swim by. Fish!! From what amorphous blob did they evolve? I can only theorize that they came in on the roots of one of the plants, probably the rescued rush.
Summer turned into Fall, then Winter, and it got colder and colder. I know that native fish can take quite a bit of cold, but I feared two inches of ice was too much for them. One frigid evening, my husband and I dragged the container water garden, a.k.a. fish tank, into the basement. Having no place else to put it, I parked it next to the seedlings that I was starting under grow lights.
Now the water warmed up and with no insects for them to eat, I had to go down and buy goldfish food for my unexpected houseguests. I also had to buy a filter and pump to oxygenate the water. Located near the grow lights, the pickerel plant came out of dormancy, the rush grew new foliage, the no-name plant came alive and the fish thought it was spring. The three were about to become many.
While tending my seedlings one day, I saw something leap out of the container. Great, I thought: one of the fish can’t take my basement clutter anymore and has decided to jump and commit suicide. No, it was a frog! An Eastern spotted frog to be exact. There must have been a languishing tadpole still in the tank. Now with no insects to eat, the snails almost gone (eaten I guess by the frog) and a new batch of fishlings on the way, the frog had nothing to eat – yet.
I wanted to spare my children the horrors of nature in action so I didn’t want the frog to eat the baby fish, but it was too cold to put the frog outside. So back I went to a pet store to buy crickets at 10 cents apiece, plus a container to keep them in. The clerk told me that the frog will eat about 6-10 crickets per week. Let’s see, a dollar per week and several weeks ’til spring – okay, I can swing that. The three fish and one frog had now cost me more than the expensive water lily.
Feeding the fish is easy. They have become used to the food appearing twice a day. There is a caveat to feeding the frog. When I put the crickets in the tank, they have to be put on the plant leaves so they won’t drown. The frog won’t eat dead bugs. So I have to wait while the frog has lunch, because if the frog doesn’t eat them, they will jump out and then my basement will be full of crickets. And did I mention I’m using un-chlorinated bottled water to replenish what evaporates from the water garden?
I have no idea what will crawl out of this black lagoon of a container next, but spring had better come early!