The Garden Jungle
or Gardening to Save the Planet
by Dave Goulson
I just finished reading what may be my favorite nature book ever and thought I’d recommend it. It’s called The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet by Dave Goulson. I can’t say enough good things about it.
The author is a biology professor in Great Britain. This book is about plants and insects in our yards and gardens and fascinating facts about them, as well as the effects of climate change that are endangering them, and how we can manage our gardens (that’s British for yard) to support them. It’s a rare nonfiction book that reads as quickly and grippingly as a good novel. And the author is irreverent and really funny as well.
The “saving the planet” part of the title is integrated throughout the book as well as fleshed out in the last chapter. Dr. Goulson incorporates plenty of statistics on topics such as the precipitous decline in species and the large drop in the number of garden allotments in Britain compared to during World War II. He also explains how gardening can in so many ways ameliorate the effects of climate change, e.g. by helping to sequester carbon in the soil more effectively than industrial farming.
In Dr. Goulson’s own words: “When it comes to doing our bit to combat climate change, we gardeners face a win-win situation. The more carbon we can store, by adding home-made compost, mulches or charcoal to our soils, the deeper, darker and healthier our soils will become, the more our worms will thrive, the better drained the soil will be, and the faster our plants will grow… Gardening can be truly green, and I think it might just contain the key to saving the planet.”
Here are the topics covered in the twelve chapters of the book: Plants in Profusion, the Garden Meadow, Earwigs in my Orchard, the Toxic Cocktail, the Buzzing of Bees, Moth Mayhem, Dive into the Pond, Ants in my Plants, the Wriggling Worms, Garden Invaders, the Cycle of Life, and Gardening to Save the Planet. You can see that a wide range of topics important to gardeners is explored. And I’ll never underappreciate earwigs and silverfish again after reading Chapter Three.
Dr. Goulson’s area of specialty is bees and the chapter on bees is fascinating. For example, mason bees lay eggs in tubes, complete with food and padding for each egg. They complete the home for one egg, then start again until the tube is full. But the really incredible thing is that they are capable of determining the sex of the egg and they lay females first, then fill in the last of the tube with males. This way if a wasp manages to invade the front part of the tube, there will still be female bees in the back to hatch and carry on the species. Amazing.
This is a book written about Great Britain so the recommended plants are somewhat different than what we grow here. One can take the principles from the book and do research on applying them to our location. But it is also quite interesting to read of the challenges to the environment in a different country and compare Britain’s experience with our situation here.
I just wish I could take a class from this author! Luckily he has two other books which I’ve obtained (A Sting in the Tale and A Buzz in the Meadow) so I can read more by him now that I’ve finished this one. Happy garden reading!