Earth Day Reading Project

When Hanni@Sweet Bean gardening invited me to take part in The Sage Buttefly’s Earth Day Reading Project it really brought me up short. The idea is to post about three – or more – books that have inspired you to find new ways to embrace sustainable living. There are other rules, one of which is to invite three other bloggers to join in, but as I have left it so late I thought I would avoid pressuring people to post and just do my own.

I read voraciously, always have done, but in recent years it has been mostly escapist fiction – and most recently any allotment or veg growing book I can get my hands on! I couldn’t immediately think of any books that were an inspiration, – plenty of blogs and TV programmes, still more people, but no books. I nearly politely declined, but it got me thinking.

I have been various shades of green in my adult life. Roughly speaking I was fairly rabid and passionate in my student years (who wasn’t!), becoming gradually paler green as I got caught up in working for a large multi national in a stimulating but utterly absorbing and “take your life over” job.

When I became ill with ME living a sustainable life became much more important again – I started becoming a deeper shade of green once more. A mix of needing to learn different ways to approach the day-to-day that would husband the limited energy I had, and the economic necessity to live more cheaply. One of the (few!) advantages of not being able to work full time is that you have more time to think, to work out what you want from life, what is important. Somehow, gardening, wildlife, the sustainable living mantra of Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle all came together with the desire for a simpler, more relaxed, less energy-sapping lifestyle. So here are three books that have informed my journey so far and fuel my enthusiasm for continuing to learn to live a more sustainable life.

How To Make A Wildlife Garden by Chris Baines

How to Build a Wildlife Garden

One of the first books I bought when we moved here and I finally had a garden to play with. I knew I wanted to combine beauty with a wildlife friendly environment, but didn’t have a clue how. I’d never had a garden, never grown anything from seed, never chosen a plant or planted it. Because of this book I tried to choose plants that would provide nesting sites or food for birds, have always had a “messy” corner with piles of leaves and branches for invertebrates – and hedgehogs – to shelter in, and right from the start wanted a wildlife pond. I took detours along the way, and don’t have evergreen cover from the edge of the garden to the pond side, for instance, or nearly enough native plants in and around the pond, but I do have lots of wildlife – for a small garden anyway – and I will go back to that book for inspiration when I am thinking about what to do wherever we end up next. I recommend it for lots of practical advice.

How To Make A Forest Garden by Patrick Whitefield

How to Build a Forest Garden

In some ways this is a hard book to get excited about. There are no colour photographs to make you catch your breath at the beauty and make you want to emulate it. But there are lots of diagrams, plenty of black and white photographs, and lots and lots of practical advice and detailed information. I bought it when we live on Anglesey, which re-awakened my desire to live in a wilder place and instilled in me a love of growing things from seed and a desire to grow my own food. I loved the idea that the couch grass we battled with – and that I now fight daily at the allotment – could have its progress thwarted by a dense planting of comfrey, which in turn would provide wonderful plant food and mulch. I loved discovering that some plants were nitrogeon fixers, and that this could be used to create a fertility patch harvested to supply mulch for nitrogen hungry plants.

The idea of creating a layered garden, efficiently using the available space and light, is attractive to me, though daunting, and something that, given space, I would like to try. Certainly growing perennial vegetables makes sense to me – less work! Ideas from this book are still percolating through my brain, and I really hope that we manage to move somewhere with enough space and scope for trying some of them out.

Converting to an Eco-friendly Home: The Complete Handbook by Paul Hymers

Converting to an Eco-Friendly Home

I picked this up from the local library, and have it earmarked for future purchase when we move. It is full of useful practical advice about how to make your home more green, and is blunt and straightforward about what measures are most useful in terms of payback. I loved the section on turning your conservatory into part of your heat management system with vents to control airflow, and the advice on what to look for when buying solar panels.

There are so many “green” products out there now, and so many companies vying to be the ones to install your solar panels, insulation, wind turbine, rainwater recovery system. It can feel like a minefield, and this book arms you with the key questions to ask of potential contractors. Most of all I loved the sense that so much was possible, and that it needn’t cost the earth to save the earth.

Wherever we go next, it will be for the long haul. I have to be honest, the idea of saving money each month on the bills is a far greater incentive than helping to combat global warming. After all, while the government in the UK still refuses to legislate that new builds have to incorporate basic green technologies like solar hot water, or that refurbs should include improvements to insulation, the effect that people like me can have is limited. But, sustainability is all about reducing one’s impact on the planet, using fewer resources, and this book inspired not only me but the rest of the household, so that can’t be bad.

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18 comments on “Earth Day Reading Project

  1. One of the subjects I teach is Green I.T., so I am also interested in the sustainability agenda. I agree that it is high time our Government legislated on all the “easy” things. They seem to be afraid of upsetting the big construction companies.
    Mark Willis recently posted More on Tomatoes

    • Daft, isn’t it – it would make such a huge difference, in a very short space of time. Green IT? Sounds interesting!

  2. Absolutely. You only need watch a couple of episodes of ‘Grand Designs’ to see the answer.

    Really thick walls (straw bale thickness) and efficient Nordic/German glazing mean that new builds can be heated all year round by one small, wood burning stove or equivalent. And yet we continue (in this country at least) to build aesthetically numbing and shockingly energy inefficient houses. Makes me want to weep.

    Happy Easter!!

    Dave
    David Marsden recently posted It Blooms and It Blooms

    • Makes my blood boil at the sheer wastfulness of it all – and the ugliness… Thank goodness for ZedBed and similar who demonstrate that it is possible to build green without having to have a million quid to spend.

  3. Janet, wonderful suggestions! This meme has been so wonderful with so many inspired choices of books. I’m particularly interested in How to Make a Forest Garden as I contemplate landscaping my property. I had been leaning toward a meadow but I just love trees so much and this book could really help with figuring that out. Thanks for participating.
    Marguerite recently posted Triumphs and Tragedies

    • Hi Marguerite, Forest Gardening could work really well for you I think, you have the space to do it and still have a more conventional “pretty” garden nearer the house. Would go well with you native hedge.

  4. I am so glad you decided to join in…for your selections are inspirations to us all. How to Make a Forest Garden intrigues me. I think it would provide me with additional methods of creating a more sustainable garden. Like you, my green has changed its hue…but forever green, nonetheless. I also look forward to the day when our laws and our building methods support green construction. Thank you for participating in The Earth Day Reading Project and happy Earth Day!

    • Thank you for setting up such a thought provoking meme – some really fascinating books out there that people have blogged about. Anything to keep the inspiration going!

  5. I am so glad you decided to play along! It took me a good long while to come up with my books, too, and mine are even less focused on “greenness.” :) I’m so thankful for books that can teach us as we bumble along!

    Happy Easter!
    Hanni recently posted Before the Throne of God Above

    • Lots of bumbling involved, but thanks for getting me to take part in this, it’s been really interesting checking out other people’s choices and was great to have the stimulus to re-examine my own green roots – and check their health!

  6. I like the sound of the wildlife garden book, I always think there’s much more I can do to make my garden more wildlife friendly.

  7. Janet: Those “how to make” books seem like they would be quite useful, even if they don’t have color photos. It took me a while to pick the books too, but I think it’s kind of a subliminal thing. I don’t think of myself as ultra “green” but I find myself searching out more and more ways to live sustainably. Thanks for the recommendations.
    PlantPostings recently posted Lost in a book

    • Yes, the forest garden book is one to poor over with a notebook rather than lounge around flicking through admiring the pretty pictures, but in some ways all the more useful for it. Glad you got something from the post.

  8. Great going Janet – how inspiring to read about what you’ve been reading if you forgive my bad english – what a lovely thing to do. I may be inspired, although my reading is generally very focussed at the moment. I like the idea of shades of green, whilst I drive into work everyday (no choice at the moment) I probably am the palest shade of green but hopefully as my day progresses I manage a tint of green. At home we try our hardest to be british racing green, but there’s always room for improvement!
    Well done on the thinking!

    • Hi Fay, be grateful I was so late getting this post together – you were top of my list of people to invite to join in!! I got all inspired about moving to the North Wales coast yesterday, because I found houses near Llanbedr where I used to work which are right on the local train line between Harlech and Barmouth. I’d love to be able to take the train to and from the local shops to buy food or visit the library, so green! Nothing green about our camper apart from the colour, but life means I don’t drive very often at the moment, which can feel quite good. I think we all go through different shades of green at different stages of our lives, but I like the idea of moving through shades within a day. Food for thought!

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