Curious Incidents on the National Curriculum?

We have a new Prime Minister and a new Education Minister – Ed Balls. As Kate Needham of Garden Organic has just called for my book Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-time to be “added to the National Curriculum reading list with immediate effect” I’ve decided to send him a copy. I’ll let you know how it goes. I don’t want to fill my blog with reviews of my own books but its not often you get one like that so consider my trumpet blown. For full review see Curious Incidents page.

Video killed the radio star

Wow. Got back from Glastonbury to find my mum in Sheffield is wetter than I am. She’s got three leaks in her house from the non stop rain and her south yorkshire city has a New Orleans style make over. The crazy weather continues. This year we’ve had the warmest April and now the wettest June. What’s coming next we can only guess. One thing is for sure – this is climate chaos as predicted by the scientists – more extreme weather events!!! I didn’t manage to do any podcast interviews at Glastonbury. It was just too muddy for my little ipod. However you can see me making a rare video appearance on (see my links page). Click on the icount video with the picture of the man in the hat and watch me doing my bit for the campaign. That’s Mel on the right and the CAT carbon take away in the background. Our mobile phone carbon calculator was really popular. If you want to get hold of it text ‘climate’ to 80010 and we’ll send you a download link.

Drought tolerance not a problem in Glastonbury

The gardens at glastonbury are getting a good old water today as Glastonbury fulfills its reputation as a drought busting device of enormous and mystical proportions. From where I sit I can see Mehdi’s garden, a combination of beautiful wooden, bamboo, willow and reed structures with a gracious and comfortable turf bench, swing chairs and hammocks. I describe one of Mehdi’s glastonbury gardens in a chapter in Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-time. It’s one of my favourite night-time spaces – lit as it is by strings of fairy lights and candles. If you want somewhere peaceful to hang out at Glastonbury at one in the morning this is the place to be – in the Greenpeace field. Check out Jenny and Mehdi’s website in my links page.

The queue for the Greenpeace solar and wood chip heated showers is very very long, wet and right outside our stall, so we’re encouraging people to download our climate:mobile programme on to their phones while they wait. Great opportunisitic marketing.

Hello from Glastonbury

It’s maybe strange to be writing a garden blog from the biggest music festival in the world but there are actually quite a few gardens around the place and over the next few days I’m going to go exploring. The best is the now permanent forest garden style permaculture garden in the Green Futures field. It’s the only garden that stays on Mr Eavis’ fields when the rest of Glastonbury goes home. The garden plays host to a number of workshops through the whole of the festival and there’s also a great cafe cooking some of the food grown on site. Comfrey fritters anyone? We’ve set up our carbon take away in the Greenpeace field from which we’ll be sending a carbon calculator programme to mobile phone’s with blue tooth. It’s the first mobile phone carbon calculator and we’re calling it climate:mobile. If you’re not coming to glastonbury and you want to get hold of the calculator text ‘climate’ to 80010. That’s all for now.


Glastonbury goers – visit us at Green Futures and at the Greenpeace field

On Tuesday I’m off to Glastonbury with CAT and we’re very excited to be able for the first time to offer mobile phone users a downloadable personal carbon emissions calculator. Anyone coming into the Greenpeace field with a Bluetooth phone can download the software on to the phone and calculate their emissions whenever they like. Or if they want to do it there and then we’ll have computers going with the programme on to. CAT, Garden Organic and Practical Action (a development charity) are all sharing a tent in the Green Futures field, which is next door to the Greenpeace field on the way to the stone circle and really close to the Permaculture Garden – Glastonbury Festival’s only permanent garden space. There’ll be lots of talks in the CAT tent in Green Futures (I’ll be doing a basic introduction to Organic Gardening and soil care) I will hopefully be performing The Lorax, the Dr Seuss fable about the last Truffula tree (that’s if I learn the lines in time!) or perhaps reading from my book Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-time. So, if you’re coming to Glastonbury hopefully see you at the festival. If you’re not and you want to protest against the bulldozing of the Manor Garden Allotments to make way for the olympics there will be a demonstration outside The London Studios, South Bank, London SE1 this Thursday 21st June at 6.15pm. See in my links page for details.

When I get back Sophie and I will be editing the next podcast. If you still haven’t heard our podcast on water conservation scroll down the blog to find it or click on the link on the left. Alternatively go to itunes and type in Allan Shepherd. Next time the podcast will be called The Green Valley podcast – a name which will hopefully stick and is far more appropriate.

Sophie and Allan sent to Coventry

Just got back from Gardeners World Live after an amazing couple of days in the West Midlands – never thought I’d write that sentence. Day one saw the Dyfi Valley Seed Savers visiting the Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organics garden at Ryton near Coventry. The Heritage Seed Library distributes varieties of seeds that would be lost to the world if it wasn’t for the work of a small team at Garden Organic and a big group of ordinary gardeners acting as seed guardians. As Head of HSL Sandra Slack told me during her interview for our next podcast (out on July 5th) there are 800 varieties of seeds in the Heritage Seed Library and each one has a unique taste, colour or character not available in commercially available seed. The seed can’t be sold because of EU rules but it can be swapped so go to and click on the link to the Heritage Seed Library to find out how to get some.

We took some of the HSL seeds to Gardeners World Live on day two of our little trip and they were incredibly popular; lots of unusual varieties of climbing French bean and tomatoes. The Dyfi Valley Seed Savers group had a little table in the lovely seed swap tent – well away from the Babylonian consumerism going on in the main halls and full of enthusiastic and dedicated gardeners interested in the idea of seed swap. Sophie and I talked to some lovely people on our two day trip and it’s all going on our seed swap podcast.

Ant and Decking – Ant control ideas anyone?

I’ve had a trauma in the garden this week. I was sitting on my home made slate garden bench with two friends when I suddenly noticed a trail, well actually more like a 5th column, of ants heading up a nearby foxglove to an aphid farm which they were obviously cultivating on the top. Ants enjoy eating honeydew from aphid bottoms, and so brown nose their way into the ant’s affection by fending off aphid predators like ladybirds. I know that ants love to make nests under bits of slate. So when I built my slate bench into the soil (I didn’t want to lay down a piece of inappropriate decking and stick a couple of plastic chairs on it) I tried to avoid any ants in my pants scenario by putting down a permeable membrane underneath the slate. This I now know to have been hopelessly naïve. The little darlings loved it in there. All warm and cosy with just enough room between the layers to make a nice safe entrance to the nest. Anyone who has ever removed a stone to find an ants nest underneath will know what it is like to feel the fear. The sound of thousands of disturbed ants preparing to attack whatever monster comes their way is positively primeval, or maybe even prime evil. It sent this goody goody be kind to nature gardener into a cold shiver, not to mention something of an ethical dilemma. Having made a vow not to pour boiling water over ants in my book The Little Book of Garden Heroes its left me with a battle between my tired ass and my overconcious mind. I can’t believe many people would be sitting (or not sitting) there thinking ants or me, ants or me. They’d be switching on the kettle within seconds. What if there really isn’t a better way. I don’t mind killing horse flies. They hurt. And so do ants. But then if you don’t disturb them they’re not interested in human flesh so what’s the problem. The problem is I can’t park my butt on my bench that’s the problem. In fact for the time being, until I resolve this problem the bench is no more. The slate dismantled. The membrane ripped off the soil. At least the huge ant colony that had made its home under there is scattered with all their little eggs to another part of the garden but I’m now down to one comfortable garden chair – a deck chair I found at the local junk yard. Still, I’m going to Glastonbury next week and there’s always a huge amount of ‘tatting’ to be done when the throw aways go home. I’ll pick up a couple of left behind chairs no problem. In the meantime has anyone got any ideas of what I can use to control ants in a biologically sound way, ie no chemicals, no hot water. Has anyone used the biological control ant nematode Steinernema feltiae, and does it work? Would be good to hear from any humane ant battlers out there.

Ring Fenced

The International Olympic Committee are in town this week. While they’re here they might take some time to enjoy the produce grown by the allotment holders of the Manor Garden Allotments. The 100 year old allotment site rests bang in the middle of the planned Olympic village and is about to be bulldozed to make way for a big screen and a footpath. That’s unless the campaign to save the allotments wins an important judicial review at the High Court this Thursday, 14th of June.

The Compulsory Purchase Order to gain possession of the site was approved because the company responsible for making the London Olympics in 2012 happen promised to find a new site for all the existing allotments. They have failed to deliver on their promise and are now being taken to court on the basis that they would be breaking the promises they have consistently made that the allotmenteers would not be evicted before a suitable relocation site has been found.

Anyone who knows anything about gardening knows that it will take a lot more than a relocation package to recreate the fertility of the gardens that already exist at the Manor Garden site, not to mention the human and non human networks that come with an aged site like this one. Relocation means years of hard work ahead for all allotment holders.

If you don’t like the idea that a hundred year old allotment garden can be destroyed for a sporting event that lasts just four weeks and you’re within journey distance of the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand this Thursday get down there by 9.30 am with a home made placard or just pitch up and you’ll be handed one. The hearing starts at 10.30. Be sure to check on wednesday evening for last minute details. Link provided from my links page.

There isn’t much time for the Manor Garden Allotments. If they don’t win their case they will be evicted on July 2nd, relocation site obtained or not.

The night time is the right time

Wow. Another amazing night of biodiversity in the Dyfi Valley. I’ve been out on an organised walk looking for night jars and glow worms. Thank you Caroline at RSPB Ynys Hir. Night jars migrate here from Africa in Mid-May and stay throughout the summer months. They are a dramatic exotic bird. A beautiful reminder of the connectedness of life on planet earth: just like the housemartins nesting in my eaves. Glow worms are one of our most popular beetle species because their tails glow in the darkness. They glow because the females create a chemical reaction inside their bodies to attract a mate. They used to be so numerous people would gather them up and place them in jam jars for a natural source of light. It’s like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. I can just imagine walking across the Estuary where we walked tonight with lamps powered by glow worms, with mists and bogs and squarks and the bleating of sheep. But alas the glow worm is another of those species whose stock has dwindled. We saw only three tonight – each one a haunting reminder of what we used to have. Its 12.30 and I’ve just been listening through the recordings I made on the walk. The hushed excited voices, the sounds of the night, a train pulling into a station, footsteps on gravel and the sound of our nocturnal world in flight. I love making our podcasts. They concentrate the mind on sound but also on silence. I remember that silence is a dwindling resource too. A few years ago I made a pact with myself to spend as much of the rest of my life as possible enjoying what our bio-diverse world has to offer. We are at this incredible peak of bio-diversity. And soon it will all be over. With 30% of species likely to be extinct by 2050 under conditions of climate change we will never again see the world as it is today. We are the generation that can appreciate it truly before it disappears. We know more about it than any previous generation and no future generation will experience the range and number of different species of our own. So an organised nocturnal walk looking for night jars and glow worms isn’t just a stroll around the neighbourhood, it’s an encounter with our past, present and future. The destiny of man is to live through what has been called The Age of Loneliness. Enjoy the age of conviviality whilst it lasts. Get out on an organised walk or just head out yourself and breathe in our dramatic, beautiful and pitifully unloved world. And maybe while you’re out there record what you see, hear and think. Make a testimony for the future, and if you feel like it send what you write, record of photo to the decision makers at the G8. The presidents and the palace dwellers. And show them what they’re missing. This is it guys, remember why the earth is worth saving.

If you go out in the garden tonight…

Now’s the time for getting out in your garden after dark. Its warm and wonderful out there. If you’re growing veg the slugs are probably on the move if it’s a bit humid so go out and check your crops and remove any offenders. And if you still see some slug damage in the morning hoe between your rows to break up the slug trails. They really do follow them to find the best feed. Whilst you’re out there look out for some of the more rewarding nocturnal creatures – moths, frogs, toads, bats, hedgehogs should all be out on the move tonight. Beyond the garden find out if your local nature reserve is organising a moth night, or like my local RSPB reserve Ynys Hir this weekend a glow worm and night jar walk. Last week a whole bunch of us spent Saturday night looking at moths arriving at a light trap provided by our county moth recorder. Each county has a moth recorder. They compile data on the number of each species of moth in the UK so we know which are threatened and in these times of global climate change where they’re heading – most are heading north to keep within their temperature range. As we found out, moths are totally fantastic, beautiful and mesmerising creatures with a far wider variety of shapes, sizes, colours and textures than our native butterflies but we can only appreciate them when they come to light. Our third podcast will be about biodiversity and we’ve got some fantastic reaction sounds from some very excited people looking at moths. Not the average Saturday night down the pub and truly wonderful for the difference. Meanwhile, our first podcast is now on itunes under the name Allan Shepherd. Or you can get it by pressing the link below or the button to the right.

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