For the last month the voice of Sue Stuart-Smith has accompanied me on eleven and a half hours of car journeys to and from gardens and my allotment as I’ve listened to her debut book, The Well Gardened Mind. Reluctant to adopt audio books for years, I have to say, I’m really enjoying the format. More than once I felt I was sitting alongside Sue in her greenhouse as she sowed seeds and planted saffron bulbs, listening to her calming insights.
The Well Gardened Mind explores how people connect with nature in and out of the garden, in different time periods, through varying external and internal stresses, such as the World Wars and personal accounts of today’s mental health crisis. It is an excellent summary of today’s research into the benefits of nature to our minds from the point of view of a qualified psychiatrist and psychotherapist.
It’s Sue’s professional experience that creates the central narrative thread that stands apart from other books on the subject. It feels to me as though this is the beginning of what could be a series of deep dives into this topic – which I hope is the case.
As someone who studied sociology over six years – and dabbled, badly, in psychology – it was refreshing to hear so many personal accounts of people who have felt improvements from gardens (which is something many sociology and psychology books include). Sue’s own accounts from direct experience and those of people she’s met forming a bulk of the research in the book, presenting real life examples that are always fascinating.
I took particular interest in the segments on prison gardens and our concept of time. Time being a topic gardeners discuss a lot, here Sue explores and explains why we feel it more in the garden. I think about time a lot, I always have, and it was enlightening to finally understand why.
The Well Gardened Mind is an important book. It condenses all of the anecdotal evidence gardeners have shared for decades about gardens and nature being good for the soul, then layers this with research and further evidence. This robust approach means we now have a book that will help gardening for wellbeing to be taken more seriously by the public and at higher levels of Government and policy making.
On a more personal level, I’ve written about my own mind and how gardening helps a lot – something I still don’t fully understand but I know became more important as I grew older. I really enjoyed listening to all of the different tales of the people in the book who have also been helped through similar experiences. Sue’s own accounts of nature reaching out to her I could relate to with great clarity.
If you are interested in how the human mind works, why gardening seems to make us feel happier, healthier and more positive, The Well Gardened Mind is an essential read. And by writing it, Sue Stuart-Smith is our newest gardening for wellbeing champion.