The Garden Jungle

The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson (2019)         
Published by Vintage, under Penguin Random House

A review by Louise Horsfall    

The Garden Jungle is a must for wildlife enthusiasts, whether they have a garden, allotment, community space or even just a window box. Even if you have no growing space, this book is still fascinating and thought-provoking. It offers incredible insight into the wildlife living right amongst us, be it in urban or rural environments. It helps the reader to appreciate the value of all we share our world with and motivates individuals to do their part for biodiversity, at a time when it is most crucially needed.

Goulson is clearly passionate about his subject and his enthusiasm is contagious. The subtitle of the book: “Gardening to save the planet” may seem rather ambitious and Goulson recognises that it is not the whole answer. However, the ideas he covers are an important part of the solution to bigger issues like the climate crisis, food security, and human health and wellbeing. The Garden Jungle raises awareness of some important issues and helps the reader to make informed and sustainable choices including healthy foods, which plants are best for wildlife and how to achieve good soils; all while supporting biodiversity instead of destroying it. Even those who think they have a good understanding of gardening, conservation or eco issues, will probably be sobered by some of their previous actions and motivated to make simple positive changes. 

Goulson’s style is enjoyable and engaging but not just a personal ramble. He backs his points up with scientific research so the reader can have confidence in his suggestions. Many chapters begin with a recipe, using ingredients from the garden or allotment – a quirky touch but one which highlights the personal gains of wildlife gardening! Goulson then explores the ‘big picture’ problems like pesticide use and food production, which at first can seem overwhelming for the average person to address. However, he then brings the reader to some very practical measures they can contribute and the myriad of benefits that they, their communities and wildlife will gain. It is very encouraging and inspiring in a world where we can feel helpless to make any difference. 

Often, key principles are illustrated by focussing on some largely undervalued invertebrates: ants, worms, moths and even earwigs are given merit along with bees and better recognised species. Goulson goes into some depth about their roles and value as part of the garden and global ecosystems. With this increased appreciation, the reader may well reappraise their understanding of ‘weeds’ and ‘pests’ or the identity of a ‘good lawn’; and never again reach for the pesticides. 

While ‘The Garden Jungle’ may suggest a chaotic and overgrown mess, Goulson is not suggesting that we sacrifice the human ends that gardens, window boxes and allotments provide. Rather, he demonstrates how we can make wildlife-friendly spaces easier to maintain, more productive (e.g. crop yields), more fulfilling and still beautiful to look at. Often it is the simple changes (such as buying single instead of double flowering plants) that make the greatest impact. 

Goulson provides many examples of wildlife-friendly plants and practices throughout each chapter but also has a handy reference section at the end, with his top recommendations and suppliers. The reader will also take away the basic principles which can be easily applied in their own space, however small. This really is a book that will make the reader think, share ideas with others and drive for local changes where they have the power to act. As he concludes “If you really want to leave your grandchildren a healthy planet to live on, it’s time to get out in the garden and dig”