I have been talking tosh. Well, not entire tosh, but certainly substantial dollops of wishful thinking and airy, groundless supposition. I have come to this conclusion after reading a book by a plant scientist called Ken Thompson. However, it is written in such an engaging, amiable and witty way that it doesn’t hurt too much; especially since I can console myself that almost everybody else has been as deluded as me.
Ever since Ken Thompson’s first book — An Ear to the Ground; Garden Science for Ordinary Mortals — was published in 2003, I have been a big fan. He is a senior lecturer in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, who left his academic papers briefly to attempt to teach gardeners horticultural science in a way that they could understand without feeling patronised. As I read it, I could hear the deafening boom and crump of exploding myths. With his second book, No Nettles Required; The Reassuring Truth about Wildlife Gardening (Eden Project Books, £10), he is at it again, trying to make us understand garden wildlife and its requirements, using verifiable scientific information. Crump, boom, aaaargh.
Ken Thompson was a key instigator of the first biodiversity survey of urban, private gardens (Bugs), begun in Sheffield in 2000. The aim of this survey was to discover what there really was in the way of wildlife in the average garden; not large rural gardens, where people mostly think the wildlife is, but small or smallish urban gardens, of various ages and gardening regimes. They chose 61, and set up a number of facilities for collecting small wildlife in them, including pitfall traps (for ground-living creatures) and Malaise traps (to capture flying insects).
This project must have been frustrating at times, since money was plainly tight.