Excerpt (3): The Joyful Environmentalist

In honour of the publication day (14th July) of The Joyful Environmentalist, we’re spoiling you with another sneak-peek at the book’s content. Read on to know more about this fast, funny and inspirational guide to saving the planet!

Don’t tidy up your garden. If something dies – anything – leave it alone. Insects are there to help decompose whatever they find and that process nourishes both them and the earth. If you are pruning your trees, leave the tree logs on the ground. We have so little rotting tree debris in our garden, I’m seriously considering scavenging some next time I’m in the woods. This would probably be illegal and might well kill whatever was living on the rotting tree stump, though. Better to have decomposing wood in a garden. If you have a dying tree, let it die. Don’t tidy it up. If you have fruit trees, leave the fallen apples, pears or plums on the ground and in late summer butterflies such as red admiral and painted lady will feed on the juice. Basically, anything rotting is good news. Honestly. Learn a new word: detritivore. Isn’t that just the best?

This next bit is utterly joyful: insects, just like humans, like nature to be full of variety, colour and perfume. In a study that the Royal Horticultural Society did at Wisley, over four years, they found that insect populations were higher when areas were planted with mainly native British plants with some semi- natives and non-natives to extend the flowering season. The study was called ‘Plants for Insects’. In case, like me, you have no idea what is native and what is non-native, here is their list of native British plants. Ideally we need to have up to 70 per cent of plants that are native to the UK in our gardens:

  1. Sea thrift
  2. Common box
  3. Common broom
  4. Tufted hair grass
  5. Maiden pink
  6. Male fern
  7. Hemp agrimony
  8. Bloody cranesbill
  9. Common rock rose
  10. English bluebell (not the Spanish ones apparently)
  11. Field scabious
  12. Ox-eye daisy
  13. Common honeysuckle (Graham Thomas)
  14. Purple loosestrife
  15. Purple moor-grass
  16. Primrose
  17. Sweet briar
  18. Small scabious
  19. Betony
  20. Common valerian
  21. Spikes speedwell
  22. Guelder rose

Isn’t that a splendid list? It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with most of the other plants in your garden. Of course not – you don’t have to go pulling them all up. It’s just that if you are going to buy plants or collect seeds to grow your own plants then these would be good to include. Today I went out and bought some English bluebells. Absurdly satisfying.

Here are a few other things that we can do that are well worth enjoying. Next time you spend a day with some kids and don’t know what to do with them, look up ‘How to make an insect (or bug) hotel’ on YouTube. There are about 20 different videos all describing the many different ways that you can create a variety of desirable residences for insects. Making one with kids is a great activity as it’s a chance to talk and learn about insects at the same time and making things yourself is SO satisfying. Or if you are feeling lazy or rich, just buy a couple from a local garden centre. Less fun but quicker.

If you have outdoor lights please switch them off at night. It confuses the hell out of the poor moths. They are programmed to see lights as the moon and, as you know, they fly into them and die. If you’re worried about safety, get one of those movement- activated lights. Then the garden will be dark, as it should be, but if someone does come wandering into your garden hoping to steal your bike or something, the light will go on as they pass and scare the bejeebers out of them.

As for any unnecessary concrete, tarmac or decking – get rid of it altogether. If you live in a house where someone has removed the front garden to make parking spaces for cars, dig the nonsense up and put earth there. Plant a tree – with berries for the birds. Let life happen.

And if all this isn’t enough for you and you really want to get serious, you’ll find a group of wonderful humans at your nearest community garden. Or how about finding a way to buy a car park and turn it into a wild flower meadow? You may need a community of people to help you, but what a joyful project that would be. New housing. For insects.

Isabel Losada is the bestselling author of six previous books including The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment.  Find out more at isabellosada.com; find Isabel Instagram at @isabeljmlosada and Twitter at @IsabelLosada.

The Joyful Environmentalist is published today! Click here to see the book in multiple formats and get your copy!