The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature 2020
I’m still trying to figure out whether I liked this book or not. Written by a British psychiatrist who is married to one of England’s leading gardeners, the book delves into the healing powers of gardening. The first several chapters about how gardening can help those with mental illness and various problems associated with poverty, violence, etc were over-filled with anecdotes and nearly drove me mad. Then just as I was thinking of quitting in mid-stream, Stuart-Smith rallied and the final few chapters were quite wonderful. She describes the “trench gardens” of the Tommy’s in WWI and the rejuvenating impact of gardens outside the hospitals for those veterans with ‘shell shock’ or neurasthenia as it was called then. My favorite chapter, however, dealt with the value of gardens for those nearing the end of life, perhaps because she used as her leading examples two of my favorite authors, the poet Stanley Kunitz and the literary critic Diana Athill. Kunitz, who wrote The Wild Braid shortly before his 100th birthday and continued gardening until he died, wrote that ‘we are all candidates for composting’, a notion that speaks to me since I’ve often sort of joked that I want my ashes spread in my compost pile Bin #1. There are gems like that scattered throughout the book, but one has to be patient because in between there’s a lot of jargonese and psychobabble. On balance, Kunitz, Athill, and this quote from Susan Sontag made it a worthwhile read: “Time exists in order that everything doesn’t happen all at once and space exists to that it doesn’t all happen to you.” Sometimes you just need to read 341 pages to find a nugget like that.