Friday, 8 April 2016

From Art to Muck

Pic of pile of mulch on main pathway at Chelsea Physic Garden

There was a big pile of something in the middle of the path on arrival. My week began on a high with art at the Royal Academy. Now, it was back to basics with muck. Not that Panamanian stuff in the news, but real, honest-to-goodness muck. Every gardener knows that you have to deal with the muck first. A good mulch keeps nasty weeds from taking over. You will regret any early season shortcuts. They come back to haunt you like Miss Willmott's Ghost. 

Where was I? I was at the Chelsea Physic Garden for the first in its new season of Thursday Supper Talks. No room for delicacy here... it was about excrement, manure, dung, poo, sh**. So I went from the wow factor of Monet's painted water lilies to The eXcrement Factor inside a week. 

Dr George McGavin's opening slide 

Dr George McGavin's talk was one of the most entertaining and informative that I have ever attended. This Scottish naturalist and broadcaster captivated the audience with his presentation on dung and its history. At first sight, this is hardly the most appealing subject. (See pile above in opening slide). "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it". Dr McGavin managed to entertain and get serious ecological points across without being gross about his subject matter.

What was his recipe? I find myself not wishing to give away all his secrets. This is simply a presentation that you must see and hear for yourself. I shall just share a few snippets.

Facts and Figures
Scientists like facts and figures. Dr McGavin gave us a flurry of fascinating facts and figures. Real scientists aren't happy with someone else's figures. They like to prove the accuracy of the figures for themselves. If the daily human output is said to be 250 grams, then a real scientist will prove it for himself. He will take two weeks working out a figure of 249.999..... The "untested" vegan figure is 300 grams apparently. The figures for all the dung in the world are staggering. And the human population is growing...

Bazalgette who?
Londoners owe Sir Joseph Bazalgette a massive debt. Most of today's London residents have probably never even heard of him. The Great Stink hit the Houses of Parliament in 1858. Bazalgette was the English civil engineer responsible for London's sewer network. He designed it for a population of 2 million. London's population is over 8 million today. The current situation sounds unsustainable and long overdue a revisit. 

What's important?
The world's ecology is now in such a state that we cannot possibly prevent all its species from dying out. We must choose. The cuddliest or best-looking animals are not necessarily the most important to the world. The Ancient Egyptians revered the scarab beetle. We need to revere bacteria first and earthworms second. Our over-reliance on antibiotics kills good bacteria in the gut. We are storing up enormous health problems for ourselves in the future. We heard about the benefits of FMT (Faecal Microbiota Transplant) for the unhealthy gut.

Dr McGavin doubted that the world would ever reach a predicted population figure of 20 billion. They will be too many wars over food, land and water. Homes and toilets need to be redesigned to use grey water not drinking water. Toilet humour can't hide the fact that urgent action is needed.

I'm now looking forward to future talks on this year's theme of captivating scents at the Chelsea Physic Garden. The beds looked well-mulched for a sweet-smelling summer. 
Magnolia flowers against a well-mulched flower bed

Healthy green lawn at the Chelsea Physic Garden

Karen Andrews runs
Anglicity Ltd. She is a
French to English
translator and 
transcreator.  She is
also an English 
copywriter and
multilingual digital 
She loves gardening
and visiting gardens.

For further information see
Anglicity's website