A garden provides the key to the natural universe.
In matter-of-fact prose with only occasional hints of poetry, Wohlleben (The Inner Life of Animals, 2017, etc.), who worked for two decades in the forestry commission in Germany, offers a guidebook on how everything we need to know about the weather can be learned by paying close attention to our natural surroundings in general and our gardens in particular. As the author writes, you don’t need a clock to know what time it is. You can listen to “the bird clock” or watch for the telling signs of “the flower clock,” learning when and how different species respond to the hours of the day. “What I’m really interested in is reclaiming our powers of observation which, up until now, have been buried under the surface of modernity,” he writes in conclusion. “When we use our senses at full capacity, we access the wealth of thrilling and calming experiences waiting for us just outside our back doors, in nature and in our gardens.” Wohlleben demonstrates the delicate balance between asserting human control over a garden and letting nature take its course. He ponders issues such as whether to have a bird feeder (he has some ambivalence but has switched sides) and whether to use artificial light on the garden at night—absolutely not: the author doesn’t turn on lights inside unless absolutely necessary and closes the blinds tightly when he does. The author is ever aware of the biggest picture: “I find it especially fascinating to think that when we observe the night sky we are looking into the past. For the stars are nothing but very, very distant suns, whose light has taken centuries, if not millennia, to reach us.” Most of the narrative is fairly pragmatic and offers specific advice on what we can learn from plants, insects, and animals and how the weather affects those interactions.
You’ll never look at your garden the same way again.