Lucky toad nearly croaked by my hand

I was tempted this week to use one of the many snowdrop or winter aconite pictures I took at the weekend, but I’m still not confident enough that spring is on the way.

With a dusting of snow still on the high tops at the heads of the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys, I suspect that winter is not done with us yet.

On one of the two dryish days we had last week, I was busy using some of my nicely-rotted leaf mould to mulch the flower beds in the garden, when I got a bit of a surprise.

Some leaves rot quicker than others and although some had reduced to a fine tilth, there were some sections of the heap which needed more attention. The leaves had partly rotted and become compressed like the pages of a book and it took vigorous chopping with the spade to reduce them down enough to use.

That done, I loaded the lot into the barrow ready for the journey to the bed, where it was shovelled out and spread on the surface, to a depth of a couple of inches or so. Nearing the last remnants at the bottom of the barrow, I noticed a movement.

At first I thought the wind had disturbed one of the few unrotted leaves. Looking closer, I was amazed to discover a toad!

It must have been hibernating in the leaf mould basket and ended up in the barrow. I examined it closer, hardly bearing to look, thinking it must have sustained horrendous injuries after my chopping session with the spade.

Incredibly, it was completely unmarked and beginning to crawl around in the barrow.

Toads normally hibernate from around October until March and choose somewhere like a compost heap or inside a rotten tree, where the temperature remains constant and it is damp.

Such sites are not necessarily anywhere near water, such as this one, and illustrates how careful gardeners should be at this time of year when disturbing piles of rotting plant material.

This particular toad was looking a bit peeved at being woken up early, so I thought I better find somewhere to put it, so that it could return to its slumbers.

The leaf basket next to the one I was excavating contained last autumn’s leaves and wouldn’t be disturbed until next spring, so that seemed like the ideal solution. I made a hole a couple of feet deep and popped it in, gently covering it with leaves.

Hopefully it would go back to sleep and emerge none the worse in March, when the mating urges beckon.