Books

Garden wildlife: How to discover the natural world close to home

Devon illustrator Jo Brown explains how exploring the wildlife in your garden can help boost your mental health

an illustration of a yellow and black butterly, surrounded by handwritten notes, which say "chevrons attached to outer edge"

In 2018, Devon illustrator Jo Brown started a journal to document the wildlife she found in and around her garden – and realised it was helping her mental health. She tells The Big Issue how to find calm in wild places

I started the journal in April 2018. I wanted to start documenting all the garden wildlife I was discovering in order to have a better understanding of my surroundings and the ecosystem.

On average, each page took between six and 10 hours to complete. Documenting species on to paper along with annotations tells so much more of a story than a single photograph. I have learned new things with every page.

I never plan what to draw next as there are always interesting things to find on every walk. Some of my favourite entries were discovered entirely unexpectedly.

One of my favourites has to be the leopard slugs mating. My back garden happened to be the ‘right place, right time’ and I got to witness a stunning and quite uncommon mating ritual.

Another favourite was unexpectedly finding the cramp-ball fungus weevils on King Alfred’s cake fungi, which is what they feed and breed on. I adore weevils and they have such incredible camouflage so I was delighted when I spotted them.

Nature is important to me because it connects everything and consistently nourishes my mental wellbeing and my outlook on life in general. The natural world deserves respect and understanding because it was here long before we were and will be here long after we’ve all gone.

We exist within nature so the more we learn about our natural surroundings, the more perceptive and connected we become.

When I’m outdoors in nature it helps my mind to de-clutter. Going for a walk makes me feel better, like a natural antidepressant that costs nothing.

During lockdown I think people started noticing nature more. Life slowed down for so many of us that people started paying more attention to their immediate surroundings, like their gardens. They began to see things they had never seen before, even though what they saw had always been there. 

Here are my tips for how to discover natural wonders close to home. Sit quietly in the garden with a brew for a while. By absorbing your surroundings you will begin to notice more wildlife.

I have lots of bird feeders in my garden and I’m convinced I’ve quadrupled my resident bird population considering how much I feed them. I also love to go outside with a torch after dark. Gardens are so alive at night, often more so than in the day. There is a wealth of native wildlife to discover just outside the door.

Secrets of a Devon Wood: My Nature Journal by Jo Brown is out now (Short Books, £14.99)

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