Cultivating a literal garden is a way to also cultivate a thriving mind, says this prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist.
This week, Rabbi Rami puts on his wellies and garden gloves to interview celebrated gardener Sue Stuart-Smith. She is also a prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and the author of the book The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature. It weaves together stories about neuroscience, psychoanalysis, and how gardening can heal us mentally and physically.
The book is especially pertinent in the time of COVID-19, she and Rabbi Rami discuss, as planting seeds and caring for living things helps us feel grounded when the future feels so uncertain. To feel calmer and more relaxed in a flourishing landscape may even be hard-wired into our brains from our earliest days as a species, explaining our continued enjoyment of the therapeutic effects of horticulture today.
Being fully present in a garden is also much like meditating, says Stuart-Smith, as it is a mindful focus. After 20 to 30 minutes out in the garden or nature, the human body experiences lowered stress hormones and blood pressure. Raising our own food also provides people with a sense of pride and connection, providing community-strengthening benefits, she says.
What if you live in a urban high rise and have no patch of soil to call your own? Indoor potted plants can provide benefits, too, assures Stuart-Smith. “They boost mood and concentration, and just the effect of caring for a plant has tremendous importance,” she says. “Caring for something, nurturing something ... can sustain us.”
Our plants need us. And, it turns out we need them.
For more on Stuart-Smith’s work, read the Q&Aour writer Damon Orion did with her.
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