The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World by Sue Stuart-Smith, book review
Psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and wife of garden designer Tom, Sue Stuart-Smith provides a new perspective on the power of gardens to heal the mind. Reviewer Marian Boswall is a landscape architect and garden writer
The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World
by Sue Stuart-Smith
This is a book so wise and comfortable that it merits a place alongside Christopher Lloyd’s The Well-Tempered Garden by the side of every bed.
Dr Stuart-Smith read English at Cambridge before becoming an eminent psychiatrist and psychotherapist. Her writing has the simple grace of someone who really knows her subject and how best to explain it.
The book’s main tenet is simple: that our gardens and nature are vital to our wellbeing. Having established the poor state of our current mental health and ecology, the book leads us gently through case studies, literary references and fascinating historic vignettes to clearly show what has been hiding in plain sight: that we are part of nature and that we need to cultivate our connection in order to thrive.
Stuart-Smith’s work is as wide and as thorough as her scientific training and her in-depth research. She references places all over the world where horticulture is helping to heal, from secure prisons in the USA to restorative gardens in the UK. Through touching conversations and sometimes harrowing stories, she introduces people who have been helped back from dark mental spiritual or physical situations by contact with nature and greenery. She also lightly brings in her own personal journey of healing and discovery as well as that of her grandfather after the First World War.
Her deep understanding of the human psyche makes this a perfect source text as well as an engrossing read. Topics range from our understanding of mortality, and relative time, to the scientific reasons why beauty calms and revitalises us. As she writes: ‘If you are not a gardener it may seem strange to think that scrabbling about in the soil can be a source of existential meaning.’ But gardener or not she brings us closer to understanding how plants can help our individual and collective spirit.
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