Ethical gardener to head Gardeners World

Toby Buckland has been chosen to front Gardeners World. He will join Carol Klein and Joe Swift (both Garden News writers) in September. He’s an organic gardener and his ethical garden at BBC Gardeners World Live won gold this year. All really good news for green gardening. With the team firmly behind the idea of creating a new direction in gardening it seems we’re back on the right path, following on from what Geoff Hamilton was doing all those years ago. Toby is a big Geoff Hamilton fan so I’m really looking forward to seeing what direction he’s going to take the programme in. It would be really great to see it go back to the sort of programmes Geoff Hamilton used to make – such as Paradise Gardens and the Ornamental Kitchen Garden. The new series, with Toby at the helm, starts in September.

Brilliant blogger award

Emma, another gardening blogger and author has given me a brilliant blogger award. I’m one of several people she has chosen for the award, and the links she’s provided are really helpful. Check out her blog and the other award nominees at her site.

Rain stops: play!

Its been raining for weeks now, and I’ve hardly been in the garden. Gardening in Wales is tough. With conditions like these you really have to plant for low maintenance, and for maximum wildlife enjoyment. Wildlife actually get more out of the garden than I do, so it makes sense to cater for them as well as myself. I’m also doing a lot of work on the house too, which needs a lot of time and energy. Not much time or opportunity for gardening at the moment. But the rain has stopped today so I will be getting into the garden to tidy up the damage the sheep have done and assess what I want to do with the garden for the rest of the year. I picked my first French beans yesterday, and although the harvest has been much reduced by the sheep there are at least a few beans to show for my efforts. The amazing survival story concerns the lettuce which has bounced back from the sheep shearing and has a healthy crop of leaves: well it is cut and come again I suppose. I haven’t been doing slug watch much and the result of my lack of action and the volume of rain is self evident. The snails have made a home for themselves in the foliage of my beans and there are little clusters of them on my calendula. Any courgettes I had coming have been eaten. The whole garden looks very messy so today its tidy up time. I think I’m going to lay down a green manure to over winter the soil and build up some fertility. Then I’ll think about putting in some permanent plantings for next year. It makes more sense with the climate and location of the garden. So for now rain stops: Play!

The Truth About Organic Gardening

From time to time a book comes along that makes you question again what you believe in. The Truth About Organic Gardening by Jeff Gillman is such a book. Jeff Gillman is a professor of horticulture based in the US and has spent many years researching the benefits and drawbacks of organic and chemical gardening. Because he has studied both sides of the coin he is able to give a balanced run-through of the arguments in favour and against both methods. Using this approach he broadly comes down in favour of organic gardening when it comes down to its emphasis on bio-diversity, composting, inter-planting, green manures and various other cultural techniques developed to get round the need to use chemicals but is not so sure about pesticides – some of which are allowed under organic systems. He uses a rating developed through scientific study to rate pesticide treatments according to how dangerous they are to people, other non target animals and the general environment. Using this system he finds that many organic pesticides are just if not more dangerous than artificial chemical controls. Many of you will be aware of this already – and will know for example that the organic pesticide Derris has recently been banned. But for the starter gardener wishing to understand the pros and cons of both systems whilst learning how they both work The Truth About Organic Gardening is a very useful book. He concludes the book by suggesting that most gardeners will never need to use pesticides – organic or chemical – if they follow the basic rules of organic gardening. They will produce biodiverse gardens full of healthy plants. I certainly find that this is true. To my mind the greatest organic gardening writer is still former Gardeners World presenter Geoff Hamilton. He tested organic methods by directly contrasting them in test beds with other systems and found they worked much better. His book The Living Garden (written with garden ecologist Jennifer Owen) is a great introduction. It’s still available second hand from various outlets. Well worth getting hold of. His book on Organic Gardening is still in print. Buy this alongside The Truth About Organic Gardening and I think you’ll have a good combination of reads. If you want a slightly more holistic approach with all the other eco ideas thrown in the mix too then my book The Organic Garden is well worth a shout. There are still a few copies available on the internet if you look around and a paperback version will be available from next March. If you’re looking for the definitive reference guide then Garden Organic’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening is the one to get.

Climate Camp – What you (and I) missed

I think its important to know what happens to people in Britain when they congregate to protest. Henry David Thoreau said “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. A few get it together to make their voices heard. And sometimes when they do they come up against intimidation, abuse and political brutality. Visit the Coal Hole and see all the TV coverage of this years Climate Camp in Kent to make up your own mind about whether the protestors were right to try and shut down the Kingsnorth Power Station.

Hello Guardian readers

Hello Guardian readers. If this was The Simpsons I’d have a flashing neon sign saying Welcome to Slug World. Thankfully its not. This blog is not just about slugs or gardening but about wildlife, environment and ecology, and actually anything else I think might help people, plants and animals. Its a mix of news stories and personal experience. Slug Watch has come to a sticky end for the moment because about a week after the Guardian photographer came to take the picture in the garden half my experiment (ie the plants unfortunately not the slugs) were eaten by a much bigger and more powerful pest – no not the mice, sheep (see blog baa baa kill sheep). If you haven’t already read enough about slugs, their habits and devices to stop these habits then have a look through the blog on all the entries marked Slug Watch or check out Here you’ll find tonnes of great suggestions from contributors to CAT’s Bug the Slug Campaign. You can also buy The Little Book of Slugs, along with all my other books and loads of other useful books and gardening resources from CAT Mail Order. If you shop from here more of the money goes towards supporting CAT’s charitable aims. In the absence of Slug Watch there’s plenty of other things to talk about – the state of the honey bee population for example. Read my article for Garden News below and get hold of the book A World Without Bees. Appreciate and act. Be a player not a spectator. Start with your garden and work your way out. That’s enough mottos for any blog. See you next time.

Best wishes

Garden News article – A World Without Bees

This is an article I wrote for Garden News a few weeks back. Garden News have taken the lead on talking about the bee issue, which I think as many people as possible should be conscious of. After I wrote this article more figures came out following research carried out in bee hives across Britain. Almost 30% of colonies perished this year. The normal mortality rate is about 5%. UK honey supplies are dwindling and may run out by December this year, not being replenished until summer next year. Its also bad news for the pollination of vital crops. Some people are saying that bad weather is responsible, keeping bees in the hive, where they become more prone to infection from viruses and attack by deadly mites but as yet there is no definitive scientific explanation.

A World Without Bees
If climate change doesn’t get you, the honey bees will – this is the rather gloomy message of a book I read recently entitled somewhat alarmingly A World Without Bees. As the title suggests it is not the presence of a new mutant killer bee that’s going to do us all in but the absence of honeybees that could trigger our demise. As some 90 commercial crops owe their continued existence to the pollination services provided free of charge by the honeybee it’s easy to see why a world without honeybees would indeed be a disaster.

Which is why Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum’s new book on Colony Collapse Disorder – a honeybee ‘plague’ which has already killed millions of bees worldwide – is important.

Over the course of the last two or three years many bee keepers around the world have arrived to inspect their hives in routine checks, only to find them abandoned, apart from a few dying or dead bees lying near-by or in the hive itself. The cause of such vanishings is not yet known but post mortems carried out on victims’ points to a number of viruses and the aptly named parasitic mite Varroa destructor as possible culprits. Apart from the distress these losses cause to the bees and beekeepers the disappearance of the bees can spell disaster for the farmers that rely on them to pollinate their crops.

You only properly appreciate how busy bees are when you try and photograph them. Unlike some insects that seem to have time to pose for the camera – what are they waiting for I wonder – bees are on or in a flower, out and off to the next before you know it, and most of the time before you’ve had time to zoom, click and capture.

The bees have their fill of nectar and move on. Each time they go to a new flower they deposit a little bit of pollen from one plant to the next, allowing those plants to form seeds and reproduce. A very busy colony of honeybees can visit three million flowers every day.

A World Without Bees asks us to imagine how much of our own labour we would have to provide if we had to pollinate all these flowers ourselves. And gives us a picture of life for people whom already do. In the southern Sichuan province in China, whose entire population of honeybees were wiped out by pesticides, thousands of people pollinate their tree crops by hand, ‘holding bamboo sticks with chicken feathers attached to the end, clambering among the blossom-laden branches of their pear trees.’

Pesticides aren’t blamed for Colony Collapse Disorder (which is different to the problem in China), but they may play a part in reducing bee immune systems, making them more likely to suffer from stress and disease. So far no one has an answer to the problem, we only know it’s going to be a disaster if it carries on getting worse.

So what can we gardeners do? Well we can’t solve CCD. We’ll have to leave that to the scientists and policy makers, but we can do as much as possible to make our own gardens hospitable for other pollinators that aren’t affected by it – bumble bee and other wild bee species, moths and butterflies, hoverflies and many other beneficial species. Next time I’ll show you how.

A World Without Bees, Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, Guardian Books

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