How Gardening Is Good for Your Mental Health

The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature is a beautiful, deeply researched book about finding emotional wellness in the act of growing things.

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Posted in , Mar 15, 2021

How gardening helps mental health

Sue Stuart-Smith is many things—among them, a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist and co-creator, with garden designer husband Tom Stuart-Smith, of renowned The Barn garden in Hertfordshire, England.

Her beautiful, profound book The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature, could be described as a Venn diagram among her life’s works in the dirt of her garden and in the rich soil of the human mind.

In it, she explores the impact of gardening—or merely spending time in natural, garden spaces—on a number of challenging life experiences. These include postpartum depression, trauma from war or military service, illness or surgery, poverty and urban blight, grief and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and severe personality disorders.

Her perceptive insights are grounded in historical and philosophical context, psychological research and vibrant storytelling. She shares the story of her grandfather Ted May’s restorative life in the garden following his survival of a brutal experience as a prisoner of war in World War I.

She makes the case that a garden has significant positive benefits to mental health. Almost no one reading this will need persuading of this thesis statement—I have written about this very topic myself here on Guideposts again and again:

--A Garden Miracle

--One of the Best Things a Garden Can Teach You

--How to Let Go in the Garden

--How Gardening Can Help You Live Longer

But Stuart-Smith’s book is one of those reads that grabbed me by the collar and said, “No, really. Read this.” It feels perfectly timed for this moment, as the March ground is starting to soften toward a spring strewn with seeds of hope and vaccinations and the possibilities of the future. I have never felt more inspired to dig, weed, sow and reap.

And as a proponent of authentic positivity, a positive outlook that embraces the full range of emotions and experience, I particularly appreciate the way Stuart-Smith depicts the fullness of time spent in the garden, not only the sun-dappled beauty of a quiet afternoon plucking ripe cherry tomatoes.

Like this insight, which so caught my eye amid the complex swirl of emotions that have accumulated over the past year:

“Not all the satisfaction in tending plants is about creation. The great thing about being destructive in the garden is that it is not only permissible, it is necessary, because if you don’t do it, you will be overrun. So many acts of garden care are infused of aggression, whether it is wielding the ruling shears, double digging the vegetable patch, slaughtering slugs, killing blackly, ripping up goosegrass, or rooting out nettles. You can throw yourself into any or all of these in a wholehearted or uncomplicated way because they are a form of destructiveness that’s in the service of growth.”

Do you find restoration in the garden? What are you looking forward to growing this year?

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