Book Review: the Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet by Dave Goulson

The garden I’d love to visit the most at the moment is Dave Goulson’s… and not purely for his homemade cider. Author of a number of best sellers about bees, his latest book, The Garden Jungle focuses on all life in his own garden in East Sussex. He talks through the habitats of mammals, birds and insects in his garden, how he observes their favourite nesting or hibernating spots and – what I bought the book for – which plants they eat, breed and wage war on. I read Dave’s words wishing I could be there to see him point out specific species.

Each chapter rattles entertainingly through an enlightening mix of creatures, from worms that grow new heads, reproductive hoverfly gloop, to extolling the benefits of roadkill. I’m now much fonder of ants and earwigs. Drawing on research including Dave’s own studies and personal observations, The Garden Jungle yo-yos from the beauty in minute details of moths to the panic of gathering escaping invasive lady birds to prevent macro level disaster.

It’s at its strongest when throwing research statistics at us, the Toxic Cocktail chapter in particular will horrify anyone about the chemicals creatures and plants are exposed to, including us. I thought I was clued up on chemical usage but it is worse than I’d realised. While reading the numbers of dwindling species makes for depressing reading as ever, The Garden Jungle intends to give us hope and a weapon to fight back in the patches of land we do control: our gardens.

Despite my own attempts to garden for the good of the planet and to encourage wildlife into our little 6 x 5m London patio, there is a point near the beginning of the book when I felt uncomfortable. I’ve been wondering this year if I’ve been doing enough for wildlife and, the truth is I can do more. Our focus on pollinators and worms has turned the spotlight away from other living creatures, many of which evolved alongside a specific plant they need to live. This means native plants are important to encourage into our gardens. Does this mean we need to rip up all of our ornamentals? I found The Garden Jungle well balanced and pragmatic in this regard, offering good solutions that didn’t make me feel bad, instead making me feel good about what I have done so far and nudging me to do more. Ornamentals can stay but around them do add more natives.

Toward the end of the book are some of the best ideas I’ve read around the importance of allotments, soil health and the future of farming. As an organic, no dig allotmenteer who makes compost while having a very relaxed approach to weeding, I can say that I believe in Dave’s suggestions and encourage people to read them. I could also feel his disbelief that we are still selling peat based composts and he gives a nicely detailed breakdown of why using peat compost is disastrous for climate as well as bog habitats. While reading I wanted to march on parliament, garden centres, anywhere to stop this ridiculous practice.

A roadmap for a better future, reading The Garden Jungle I found reassuring for finding another person with an empathetic approach to living. It is very well written, I enjoyed every page, unable to put it down. In a time when all hope for life on earth can seem lost, it’s nice to be reminded we are not alone and that some strong, intelligent voices have informed ideas.

Summary: The Garden Jungle

I went in fairly knowledgeable of the gardening subjects discussed and still learnt more, especially the habits of animals and insects. Evidence based and solution focused, this book is essential reading for every gardener from the professional to the beginner. Covering plants to grow for wildlife, soil health, home-grown crops and farming, it’s a balanced guide to turn our gardens into healthier, more productive eco-systems for animals, insects and us.

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