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Book Review: The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury

Kate Bradbury - wildlife gardener, columnist and author - has just released her second book, The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. Written as an account of how Bradbury returned her new garden from deck-covered wasteland to wildlife haven, it is a deeply personal read compared to her debut publication, The Wildlife Gardener, a brilliant manual and field guide on how to create your own nature-friendly garden.

In The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, we find Bradbury at a crossroads in her life. Recently split from a long-term relationship, she relocates from London to her old university stomping grounds of Brighton. Bradbury finds herself a flat with a tiny garden, almost completely decked over, and sets to work using her knowledge of gardening and passion for wildlife to transform the space into an island of green whilst her neighbours gradually remove all traces of life from their own backyards.

Deftly weaving in threads from her past, Bradbury relives memories of her life through her garden. Not only does her garden reflect her history, it also mirrors Bradbury’s emotions. When she is feeling happy or uplifted, she feels proud of her garden's progress. When her life leads her to frustration or misery, she is frustrated with her plot, impatient at the lack of progress. And when she is in need of sanctuary, the patch provides it in the form of her hidey-hole, tucked away by the pond, surrounded by plants, buzzing insects and birds. The garden becomes an extension of Bradbury herself.

Whilst reading this book I discovered many parallels between myself and Bradbury. I’ve recently developed a keen interest in wildlife gardening through working on such projects at Dorset Wildlife Trust, and we’ve made efforts at home to make our space more welcoming to nature. Like Bradbury, I also love house sparrows, and am privileged to say unlike the cautious colony in her garden, mine are raucous and unafraid, even nesting in the wall of my house! Where I feel a particular affinity with Bradbury is in her despair at the approach of winter. Although I can appreciate a crisp autumn day, the following is one of my favourite passages from the book: ‘I hate autumn. I can’t get past the death, the decay. I see beautiful red and orange leaves and I want to cry….As the half-life of winter approaches, masked for weeks by the Judas of autumn, I yearn only for spring.’.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. One small criticism I have is that unfortunately the book has no photographs or illustrations inside (the front cover, however, is beautifully illustrated). I think it would be great to have some pictures to show the progress of Bradbury’s passion project, even if it was one at the very beginning and one at the end. For those interested, Bradbury has documented her garden’s impressive evolution in articles for the Guardian’s website.

Bradbury writes candidly about her life experiences, resulting in a book that is far from just a simple description of creating a wildlife garden. Her honesty and openness make this book highly accessible for an audience beyond those of us who are ardent nature lovers, and perhaps those are the people that need to read this story the most. The crux of the narrative is how important nature is, not only for nature’s sake, but for the well-being of ourselves and society. This is a vitally important concept still poorly understood by the public at large, something which Bradbury’s book could begin to unpick.

If you’re interested in wildlife, conservation or gardening I highly recommend this book. Not only will you learn something new about garden wildlife, you’ll likely find a kindred spirit in Kate Bradbury; for her love of wildlife and gardens, or for the twists and turns her life takes, ones which we all face sooner or later. But, aside from its worthiness of being read by AFON members, I think this book would make an excellent gift for friends or family, especially those you want to nudge into having more wildlife-friendly gardens! I think everyone will be able to identify with Bradbury’s story in some way.

I hope The Bumblebee Flies Anyway becomes a rallying cry for the nation to return our gardens from paved-over, barren spaces to the wildlife paradises they should be.

Jack is a conservationist from Dorset interested in finding solutions for issues facing people and wildlife around the planet. He has worked for Dorset Wildlife Trust and Wessex Water as well as volunteering on projects in Borneo and Costa Rica. If you like pictures of wildlife, nature reserves and dogs, follow him on Instagram @jackfbedford or on twitter @JackFBedford.


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