One of my (not very subtly requested) presents for Christmas 2019 was ‘The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet‘ by Dave Goulson which has now become the first book I have read in 2020. The author is a Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex but don’t let that put you off: this is certainly not a dry scientific treatise. It is instead a heartfelt plea for us all to engage with and appreciate the fascinating eco-system existing right under our noses in our own gardens. Yes, we all love an Attenborough documentary showing us the wonders of the natural world in often remote and exotic locations, but what about the fauna outside the back door?
The book focuses largely on the under valued creepy crawlies to which many of us are either oblivious or in some cases actively hostile. From earwigs and ants to moths and earthworms, The Garden Jungle is a celebration of the wonder of life on earth and a call to arms to all of us to do more to protect it. The book is peppered with fascinating facts about the creatures it describes, their amazing adaptations and how vital so many of them are to the success of our own existence. These are coupled with personal anecdotes and observations which are often highly entertaining and convey the author’s obvious enthusiasm for his subject. There are also lots of top tips on how encourage and protect the wildlife in our gardens through our choice of plants and the inclusion of features such as ponds. There’s even a lovely recipe to start each chapter linking to the book’s concluding pitch in encouraging people to grow their own food.
Although the book is generally a very enjoyable read it does contain some hard hitting chapters on the destructive actions of the human race. In particular a truly shocking exploration of the excessive use of pesticides and the damage this causes, certainly to wildlife, and potentially in the long-term to our own health. There is also the matter of peat extraction for the bags of compost we use in our gardens and how unnecessary and unjustifiable this is in the face of climate breakdown. [If you’re not familiar with this argument, peat bogs are basically an excellent storer of carbon and need to be left to do just that]. Throughout there is also incredulity at the lengths to which humans will go to apply artificial processes where nature is far more adept (and cheaper) at achieving the same (or a better) outcome.
As always when I read a book like The Garden Jungle I wonder whether it is really only preaching to the converted. The arguments made certainly appeal to people like me, but I am already interested and engaged in trying to garden more sustainably. I guess though, the hope is that those of us who are already trying to do our bit will share these ideas with others who might be receptive. So, here I am encouraging anybody who has a garden and is even faintly concerned about the well-documented environmental problems our planet faces, to read this book. In the meantime if you do nothing else, please at least resist the temptation to load up on those brightly coloured bottles of pesticides euphemistically stacked in the ‘gardening’ section of the supermarket. Blasting every insect or clump of weeds out of existence isn’t particularly necessary in the average domestic garden – all you will be doing is killing some other creature’s dinner, poisoning your own environment and making the shareholders of a massive conglomerate a little bit richer.
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