The Well Gardened Mind – Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World – Sue Stuart-Smith

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There are so many books on gardening it’s untrue! And a thousand more are seemingly released every year! You would think that everything there was to say about gardening had been said, over and over again. Books on ‘how to’, – how to grow flowers, how to grow fruit and vegetables, how to propagate; books on aesthetics and design; coffee-table books full of sumptuous photographs of gardens around the world. But there are far fewer books on just why we garden, what drives us to do it, what are its benefits? In my opinion, such books are far more interesting.

Sue Stuart-Smith has gathered together recent scientific research, numerous case-studies, current human evolutionary theory, her own life experience – as a practicing psychiatrist and psychotherapist, as an experienced gardener, her own health story and her family history – into a fascinating tome about how ‘green’ is good for us. About how we evolved within nature for millennia and how our brains are thus wired up to respond to green, about how we need it for our physical and mental well being and about how we separate ourselves from it at our own peril, about how we need to rediscover and return.

The case studies cover such subjects as the use of gardening to relieve stress, anxiety and depression; its use to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol dependency; its use in prisons to give prisoners a sense of worth and hope for the future after release; its benefits to the elderly and its use in old peoples homes; its healing benefits, from grief, after physical ill health and its use in hospitals to speed recovery after operations and much, much more.

Sue also touches on the spiritual side of gardening, about how it can help us understand, and come to terms with, ageing and dying and our small part within nature’s vast cycles of new life, growth and death, of seasons and time. It touches upon gardens as sanctuaries, as half way places between ourselves and the world, between the workings of the mind and the activity of the hands, of places where we can be naturally mindful and enter flow states.

The sub-title of Sue’s book is ‘rediscovering nature in the modern world’. One of the recommendations on the back of the book describes it as ‘a timely call of return’. For me ultimately the book is about re-connection, about how gardening can help us re-connect – to the self, to nature and ultimately to the world. A really, really wonderful book.

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