A Mind Shaped By Gardening

Spirituality & Health|July/August 2020

A Mind Shaped By Gardening
Sue Stuart-Smith is a psychiatrist and gardener. Her new book The Well-Gardened Mind explores the power of gardening to change people’s lives.
By Sue Stuart-Smith

WE ARE A grassland species that emerged in the savannah landscapes of Africa.

Over the course of evolution, our nervous and immune systems have been primed to function best in response to various aspects of the natural world. This includes how much sunlight we get, the kind of microbes we are exposed to, the amount of green vegetation around us, and the type of exercise we take.

When we work with nature outside us, we work with nature inside us. It is why people feel more fully alive and energized in the natural world, why gardeners report feeling calmer and more vigorous, and why spending time in nature awakens the connection-seeking aspects of our human nature.

When I began visiting therapeutic gardening groups as part of my research, I got a strong sense of all these benefits. On one of those visits I encountered a woman called Grace who suffered from anxiety and had been attending a small horticulture project for nearly a year. About 10 years previously, when she was in her 20s, she had experienced an unfortunate and distressing chain of events that had culminated in the death of a close friend. Following this, she developed depression and began to experience panic attacks. She spent most of her time indoors, trapped in a cycle of low self-esteem, feeling that nothing was going to change.

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July/August 2020