LIKE a top-notch wildlife documentary, The Garden Jungle draws us in with fascinating details of the natural world and, at the same time, delivers a wake-up call.
The creatures under scrutiny are all around us in the average garden: bees, earwigs, moths, and beetles, to name a few. Ants, we learn, outnumber humans by more than one million to one. Earthworms, “unlike French aristocrats . . . are only very mildly inconvenienced by having their head sliced off”.
Goulson’s voice is that of the slightly eccentric, overtly green neighbour who is always good for a natter and engages us with observations of his garden’s ecology. The message is deadly serious, but the tone is not preachy. We learn that he resists the urge to remonstrate with the staff at Waitrose over the store’s selling double hollyhocks (single varieties being great for bees, these useless), for fear of losing his free-coffee privileges.
Tongue-in-cheek and humorous in places, Goulson eases us in fairly gently. He cites the adaptability of most pollinators as a reason not to get too hung up on growing only native plants. In fact, one of his favourite plants for pollinators is Mexican giant hyssop. His views become stricter if we want to cultivate a wildflower meadow — a specific habitat with particular flora.
The chapter “The Toxic Cocktail” focuses on the widespread indiscriminate use of pesticides in the United States: a shocking read. Goulson points out that, if you choose the right plants for your conditions, they should look after themselves. If they do suffer occasionally from slugs, aphids, or caterpillars, does it really matter?
Slightly bizarrely, each chapter begins with a recipe seemingly unconnected with what follows. Thus, a chapter on the importance of ponds begins with how to make a rabbit, squirrel, or venison pie. It is all part of a commonsense, non-squeamish look at food production. Many of us will share the author’s disdain for food waste. Few of us would squeeze a road-killed deer into the passenger seat of our car, and later butcher the carcass on our back lawn, ready for the freezer.
At the same time, I doubt that many will finish reading this important book without making a few changes to their gardening or way of life.
Jamie Cable is a gardener and freelance writer based in Staffordshire.
The Garden Jungle: Or gardening to save the planet
Jonathan Cape £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30