The Little Book of Garden Heroes

by Allan Shepherd

Published by New Society

119 pages, 2005

Buy it online




Cute as a Bug's Ear

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen


Comprised of two parts only, a section on these little heroes followed by a directory of resources for green gardeners looking for champions, this diminutive book is definitely a keeper.

Published by the Centre for Alternative Technology in the United Kingdom, the garden critters under discussion here can be found in many parts of the world.

Ants, for example, appear to be as universal as backaches, and while they can make picnicking on the lawn a real trial, they are composters par excellence, according to Shepherd. So prepare yourself to have the tables turned on some of your conceptions about what's a pest and what's a garden great. While some of these little benefactors have long been known to be good for gardens -- mason bees, for example -- others have been getting squashed, sprayed and snuffed right out of their Eden. Turns out, in many cases we've been biting the hand that feeds us, more or less.

If you take Shepherd's words to heart, you will feed the garden and not the plant. That more panoramic, holistic view will then encompass some of those lowly creatures you might not currently be welcoming. Those ants, for example. And if you look at the total picture, obviously you are not going to reach for Round up or Raid to get rid of a weed or a pest.

Part One is divided into composters, pollinators, plants and predators. Part Two is a resource section, short but packing a punch. It's loaded with valuable stuff: lists of useful Web sites of organizations, mail order companies, recommended books and garden chemicals to shun or chuck if you still have them around. Granted most of these addresses are Britain based, but in these days of e-mail and the Internet, it really doesn't matter that much where the good stuff comes from.

All around, The Little Book of Garden Heroes is a perky little book with attitude as well as sketches and interesting information in shaded sidebars. While I am not too certain how far a range the hedgehog has or whether most soils are host to the thunder worm. ("... it looks like a self-propelling cotton thread." writes the author), or even whether most of us can grow comfrey, I do recognize most of the hero list.

In his preface, Shepherd writes:

Man has a history of not appreciating, or even taking the time to find out about, such mutually beneficial relationships. We are nature's blunderers, not understanding our place in the natural order or taking much care of it.

This snug little book may help just a little. Tuck it into your gardener's apron. | January 2006


Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.