If you're wont to spend your weekends mowing the lawn and cruising the aisles of the garden centre, I'd recommend settling down to read this marvellously eye-opening book by the Samuel Johnson-shortlisted author of A Sting in the Tale instead. Introducing us to the rich range of flora and fauna which lives right under our noses, Goulson sets out the environmental harm we inadvertently do by buying intensively reared plants in disposable plastic pots, spraying with pesticides, and installing acres of decking.
Professor Goulson is the kind of humorous, knowledgeable and bubblingly enthusiastic teacher anyone would want (he lectures at the University of Sussex).
He brilliantly communicates his delight at the biological miracles right under our noses in our own back gardens.
In the last 30 years, Goulson – a professor of biology who specialises in bumblebee ecology and founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust – has had six different gardens, from “a pocket-handkerchief rectangle” to his current one, a “slightly unkempt but delightful” two acres. But every garden, large or small, is teeming with life, from the worms to the birds and butterflies. Beginning in the 1970s, Jennifer Owen – “one of the great heroines of wildlife gardening” – recorded the plants and creatures living in her little Leicester garden. In 35 years she found 2,673 species.
Fastidious readers might find Goulson off-putting. He collects and eats roadkill — crows, rooks, pigeons and on one occasion a roe deer. We should all do the same, he counsels, as this meat, unlike farm animals, has not been reared at the expense of the environment. By and large he seems to prefer insects to people. He finds it “entertaining” to watch a fight between dung beetles, and observing hoverflies provides him with “brilliant fun”.
By contrast his account of customers at an upmarket garden centre stocking up on expensive tat and multiple pesticides is a model of sharply acerbic satire... But if you can put up with its rough edges, this book will teach you a great deal about the creatures who live right outside your door and are waiting for you to get to know them. It is a constant revelation, just don’t expect it to cheer you up.
The Garden Jungle is an eye-opening book with an upbeat message. Gardeners are key to the environment. We don’t have to look for technical or chemical solutions to problems when a simple natural solution is staring us in the face. Goulson may be fairly wacky — he eats roadkill — but is rarely preachy and his enthusiasm is infectious. This is a man you’d just love to visit your garden and show you its invisible wonders, teach you how to nurture them. To this end, he includes practical suffix chapters on what to plant, what to encourage, how to build insect and bee hotels (for non-honeybees).