I’ve been working on an outside pen for Lady Thortoise since I got her at the end of last summer. The temperatures are nowhere near warm enough for her to go out – it’s definitely spring here, but it still gets nippy overnight – and the plan is that she’ll go out in the day and come back in at night for the moment, during nice days. That’ll hopefully give the plants time to get growing.Once it gets properly warm overnight (as in, mid-teens) and I’m more confident she’ll be safe in there, she’ll stay out overnight. Lady Thortoise is a 3-toed Box Turtle, and so southern England is just about ok for her in the summer – apparently they do quite well outside. And this will give her a bigger space than her indoor cage to stomp about in, as well as natural light. And an endless supply of slugs and snails and worms to snack on.
The pen itself is an 8ft by 4ft raised bed, lined with weed barrier fabric and paving slabs at the base (in case she goes digging), then with about 6-8″ of topsoil back on top. We have really heavy clay soil here – which has limited the type of plants I could put in, but I was aiming for something similar to her native environment (even though she’s probably captive bred and therefore wouldn’t know the Ozarks from a hole in the ground). So a few shrubs, lots of ground cover, and some grasses. There’s dogwood and various carex species, NZ flax, hosta and ferns, geraniums, ragged robin, violets, pansies, and some hardy succulents – and heuchera and hopefully mallow and fuschia. The idea is that there’s nothing in there that’ll hurt if she takes a bite out of it, some plants she can snack on, and plenty of places to hide. And at the same time, something attractive to look at for us humans – so probably more flowering shrubs and pretty leafy groundcover than she’d get in a properly recreated natural environment.
There’s a small, and shallow, pool at one end – with two sloping edges so she can climb in and out easily. When it’s full, there’s about 5″ of water at the deepest point. I’ve planted it up and hopefully the edges will be covered in greenery;
I might need to pick up a few more bits for this (especially as some of the plants didn’t take here)
Below is a picture of the pond – complete with flag iris in a planter. There’s lots of gravel at the edges, and some big stones to keep it all in shape. I have never dug a pond before, and I was pretty rubbish at it. You can also see a cold frame, and the slate for feeding – and the stump which will hopefully encourage creepy crawlies, give her something to scratch against, and maybe even get climbed on.
The little cold frame recommended for tortoise pens here, in case it gets chilly; these are more traditionally used like mini greenhouses, so they’re quite warm inside. I’ve put softer soil in there – so she can dig in easily. It’s not the biggest space inside the frame, but hopefully it’ll be more of a temporary hide for chilly moments. That end of the pen gets the sun for the longest time – from sunrise through to about 4-5pm in the summer.
Here’s the cold frame – and the terracotta pot, which will be filled with sphagnum. The cold frame is raised on bricks, with a little tunnel to get in.
Two more views below. The paving slabs on the left are both for access, and an attempt to restrain the iris monstrosity that you can just see. Steeve is in the background.
And, to keep the dogs, and the local fox (Janice – she don’t give a fuck) out – and her ladyship in – the pen topper. This is a wire rabbit run, slightly smaller (by about 5cm all around) than the raised bed – I couldn’t find one that met the dimensions exactly – and it is pegged into the ground. I’m going to have a fiddle and see if I can’t make it extra-safe. I might also run some of that flowerbed edging around the sides if Lady Thortoise objects to the space she can’t get at.
And here’s her ladyship herself: