While having a break from writing during the recent school holidays, I thought it would be nice to grow some strawberries in a pot on the patio. I went out and bought a box of strawberry plants, labelled ‘giant variety’. Everyone in our house, including the dog, loves strawberries, and as I carried them home and planted them in a large patio pot, I thought how nice it would be later in the summer, when we could go outside and pick our very own, home-grown strawberries for tea. I told the dog about it, and let him have a sniff at the green and red leaves peeping over the rim of the pot. He was clearly impressed.
I watered the strawberry plants every day and a week or two later, I noticed some buds appearing. I called the children and the dog to come and look at them, and they were all very pleased. But the next day when I went outside to do the watering and check on the size of the buds, I was horrified to find a snail sat inside the pot. I had assumed that planting them in a pot instead of in a flower bed would remove the slug/snail problem, but I was clearly wrong – snails could climb.
I had no wish to harm the snail but at the same time I couldn’t allow him/her to stay in the plant pot; doing so would spell disaster for the strawberry buds. Also, I knew that snails could carry diseases that were really bad for dogs, so he and the dog needed to be kept well apart. I picked the snail up and carried him to the far side of the garden, placing him carefully down on a tree stump, then I watered the strawberries and went back inside, thinking no more about it.
The next day, there were not one but two snails inside the strawberry pot. Once again, I moved them to the other side of the garden. Snails, I knew, were very slow moving, so I was pretty sure that, once moved, they would trouble the strawberry plants no more, but several days, and a lot of snails, later, it occurred to me that some of them were looking a bit familiar; one or two had quite distinctive markings on their shells, and I had a nasty suspicion that I might have moved some of them more than once.
I googled it, and yes, apparently snails can travel a lot faster than you might think, and are also pretty good at smelling out and tracking down their meal of choice, from wherever they happen to be in the garden. I started wondering about whether some snails were better at this than others, and then the idea for the great snail race was born.
Every time the children or I found a snail in the strawberry pot, we marked the shell with a tiny dot of paint, before carrying them to the tree stump across the garden. It was decided that the winning snail would be the first one to reach the pot three times. As the weeks went by, it became more and more common to find snails in the strawberry pot that were already decorated with a small dot of paint, but for a long time, one-spot snails – those who had now returned to the pot for a second time – were the best we had. Then, one marvellous day, we checked the pot and found a two-spot snail – here was the champion who had made a third successful trip across the garden and had valiantly climbed the slippery sides of the strawberry pot no less than a record three times!
With much excitement we marked his shell with the prized, third spot of paint, before carrying him back across the garden to the tree stump, in triumph. But this time he wasn’t left on the stump to wander away, and immediately start the long journey all over again – oh no. He was presented with a large slice of cucumber, which google had told me is one of a snail’s favourite foods. We were delighted to see him get started on his prize straight away, and later that day only a tiny piece of peel remained. The rest was gone and so was the winning snail – back on his mission to set an even more impressive record for the number of attempts to climb a strawberry pot.
Interestingly, the strawberry buds never came to anything, and we didn’t get a single strawberry. Still, if it was the winning snail that ate them each night, storing up energy for his next lawn crossing, I don’t mind. It’s not often you get the chance to help a true sporting hero on his way to victory.