Why gardening is good for you

By Redactie See All This | June, 2023

In her groundbreaking book The Well-Gardened Mind, psychiatrist Sue Stuart-Smith explains the therapeutic impact of gardening: while we are looking after plants, they are actually taking care of us. Here, she shares 10 ways to unwind with nature.


1. SOW
Propagating plants from seed is what hooked me into gardening. Even after many years, the magic of new life emerging never fails to thrill me. Starting a part of your garden with seeds allows you to have a hand in the very beginnings of life. Seeds have tomorrow ready-built into them and this forward-looking aspect of gardening is particularly helpful at times when life feels very uncertain. A packet of seeds is a small investment but when you sow them, you know that you are making something good happen. It’s hard to think of anything else that is so simple that can give rise to such positive anticipation and yield such a powerful result. If you’re not very confident or are new to gardening, start with seeds that are dependable – nasturtiums and sunflowers are both wonderfully colourful and easy to grow.



The unremitting pace of urban life and modern technology has led to a devaluing of the slower rhythms of natural time. But in the garden, the pace of life is the pace of plants, and gardening itself can have a meditative aspect to it if you allow yourself to be present. The rhythmic activities of weeding, hoeing and sowing, lend themselves to being practised mindfully. For me, gardening calms and decompresses my mind and I often find that the jangle of competing thoughts inside my head clears as the weed bucket fills up.


Michiel Blumenthal, Sunflowers, 2023



The earthy physicality of gardening can be a great antidote to looking at a screen. The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung recognised the value of gardening because he believed that modern lifestyles had alienated people from the ‘dark maternal, earthy ground of our being’. There exists an ancient physical connection to the soil because in the course of our evolution as a species, we co-evolved with the myriad ‘friendly’ bacteria that inhabit the soil. These organisms play a crucial role in stimulating healthy activity in our immune systems and research indicates that one in particular, Mycobacterium vaccae, may also help raise levels of the mood boosting neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.



Regardless of age, gardening can be a form of play. The garden is an ‘in-between’ space – a meeting place between our innermost, dream-infused selves and the real physical world where we can lose ourselves in the activity of making things happen. One of the largest studies of ageing, carried out by Harvard, found that people who developed creative outlets in their fifties were three times more likely to be thriving at eighty than people who had not. There are many reasons why this should be so. One is that being able to shape part of our world is empowering and another may be linked to release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain. Entering into states of creative play is associated with increased levels of BDNF which acts like a fertiliser in the brain and promotes healthy growth and repair of neural networks.



Read the whole article in See All This #30 – Paradise Found curated by Piet Oudolf.
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header image: Howard Sooley, Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage Garden at Dungeness, Kent, UK, from 1986, 1993, on view at the exhibition Garden Futures: Designing with Nature at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein 

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