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The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson

(or Gardening to Save the Planet)

On my every growing to-do list is create a wildlife-friendly garden, should I ever move house and have a garden. That’s not happening any time soon, but if you do have a garden and some spare time for whatever reason, then spending some of it with The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson would be an excellent idea.

What I expected when I bought the book was a guide to wildlife gardening. And to an extent, that’s what it is. But it also has much more too. For example, there’s a chapter on Earwigs. You can grow apple trees with nooks and crannies for the earwigs to nest. But how many people look at their garden and think, “It’s ok, but it really needs more earwigs.” That’s why the discussion about why you want earwigs in your garden is important. Goulson includes this for species throughout the book, along with some of the life history to give some maligned creep-crawlies some good press for a change. Here he is on earwigs.

“Having mated in the autumn, she lays her creamy, oval eggs in a burrow in the ground towards the end of winter. She tenderly cares for them, standing over them and guarding them against predators. She regularly inspects the eggs, gently picking them up and adroitly spinning them round with her forelegs while nibbling them to remove any dirt or traces of fungus, ensuring that they are entirely clean. When they hatch she cares for her young brood, known as nymphs – small, grey-coloured versions of herself – shepherding them together like a mother duck with her ducklings.”

Goulson, Dave. The Garden Jungle (p. 41). Random House. Kindle Edition. 

Lest you think this is a little-too rose-tinted view of earwigs, I’ve cut off the line where he undercuts the image with good humour, “Only when they moult again does she evict them from home, deciding that they are now old enough to be independent (and occasionally eating one that refuses to get the hint – if only humans could threaten that).” 

While some of the chapters are nominally about an animal, bees, worms or moths, the chapters intertwine animals and plants and highlight the connections between them. At the back of the book are some practical lists of plants to buy for pollinators and birds.

Something I like in a book are sections where I read them and think, “The author’s gone a bit over the top with this, but I wonder what’s based on.” And then when I look it up, find out I was wrong and that world is that strange.

There were quite a few of these sections in the chapter on pesticides. For example this section on pesticide application in the USA.

“…[I]t is also common practice to drench urban and suburban areas with insecticides, either dropped from aeroplanes or sprayed as a toxic fog from large tankers that patrol the streets. There is no opting out – the police may be called if you try to prevent your garden from being sprayed. In the many areas where this occurs there is little point in trying to garden for wildlife, or plant bee-friendly flowers – all you would be doing is providing a death trap, luring butterflies or bees to their slaughter.”

Goulson, Dave. The Garden Jungle (pp. 63-64). Random House. Kindle Edition.”

It’s, therefore, no surprise that you’ll probably get more useful tips out of the book if you live on the eastern side of the Atlantic. But you’ll still be surprised by the pollinator-friendly plants that some garden centres sell.

The strength of the book isn’t that you’re going to pick this up, do everything and magically have an oasis. Most of us will never have the space to garden that Goulson has. But you can do something from the book and make the world a bit better. With this book as a guide you can see why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you stand to gain. That gain is important. Goulson’s human touch turns what could be a bleak record of how much damage gardeners can do into the promise of getting something better.

The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson is due out in paperback later this week.

Alun Salt

Alun (he/him) is the Producer for Botany One. It's his job to keep the server running. He's not a botanist, but started running into them on a regular basis while working on writing modules for an Interdisciplinary Science course and, later, helping teach mathematics to Biologists. His degrees are in archaeology and ancient history.

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