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
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
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
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.