The well-gardened mind : the restorative power of nature

For many years Sue Stuart-Smith regarded gardening as a form of “outdoor housework.” It was the life of the mind that she sought, and states, “ … I would no more have plucked a weed than baked a scone or washed the curtains.” She knew that gardening was a part of her family’s history, which she writes about. For her, it was not until some crises and interactions took place, that Stuart-Smith changed her attitude about gardening, which resulted in a profound refocus about her personal and professional life. There were gardening connections in her past, and there would be more in her future.  After studying literature at Cambridge University, she qualified as a doctor in psychiatry, and specialized in psychotherapy. While at university she met and married Tom Stuart-Smith, “ … for whom gardening was a way of life.”  He is an internationally well-known landscape architect and garden designer. Their personal histories and dissimilar professional training have led to her serious research about the therapeutic values found in gardening and in nature, and to their joint work on the Serge Hill Project.

Stuart-Smith documents gardening in various times and places, whether it was for food or aesthetics, and who was involved in the actual work; how gardening has been used in modern times for those with addictions, trauma, depression, PTSD; the restorative powers of having plant life in hospitals, prisons and cement-covered urban areas. There is scientific evidence that all types of plants, in form and color, coalesce to bring elevated levels of good hormones--especially for those who take care of plants and gardens. Throughout the book, Stuart-Smith’s background and interest in literature and the humanities, enriches her scientific writing, with quotations from historical and modern thinkers.

There is great satisfaction in turning around a piece of earth, getting rid of unwanted plants, enriching the soil, and growing something aesthetically beautiful and/or nutritionally beneficial on it. The gratification comes from actively gardening and the daily tending that is part of it, and from the results, which are never guaranteed.