Magazine article The Spectator

'The Sceptical Gardener: The Thinking Person's Guide to Good Gardening', by Ken Thompson - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Sceptical Gardener: The Thinking Person's Guide to Good Gardening', by Ken Thompson - Review

Article excerpt

The Sceptical Gardener: The Thinking Person's Guide to Good Gardening Ken Thompson

Icon Books, pp.304, £12.99, ISBN: 9781848319332

Why is it that gardening in the public prints is so often treated as a fluffy subject for fluffy people? Writing that a plant is 'incredibly beautiful' or that everyone is 'really passionate' about their allotment/community garden/windowbox doesn't seem to me to be an adequate substitute for telling thoughtful gardeners something they didn't know already. The trouble is that there is a shortage of trained gardeners and horticultural scientists who both have something interesting to say and can write engagingly, and of these only one can make me laugh out loud. His name is Ken Thompson, and he was for many years a lecturer in the Plant and Animal Sciences faculty at the University of Sheffield. These days he writes popular science books, including Do We Need Pandas? (on bio-diversity), Where Do Camels Belong? (about 'alien' plants and animals) and, just published, The Sceptical Gardener .

This is a compilation of articles which have appeared over the past five years in the Saturday gardening section of the Daily Telegraph . Congratulations to the editor, Joanna Fortnam, for giving space to articles so determinedly rigorous and decidedly unfluffy. Thompson's mission, as far as I can see, is to read every botany and ecology journal you've never heard of, examine critically the evidence presented on subjects to do with gardens, gardening and garden wildlife, and translate it into something comprehensible that both amuses and informs the general reader. These journals include Urban Eco-

systems, Global Change Biology, Functional Ecology and Arthropod-Plant Interactions . I began to think he had made that last title up, until he revealed that two or three new scientific journals are founded every day. …

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