Humans Need Nature to Blossom Humans Need Nature to Blossom
Photo by Teresa Villalobos / Unsplash

Humans Need Nature to Blossom

An Interview with Sue Stuart-Smith
Anna Tatarska
time 13 minutes

Her clinical job is supporting doctors suffering from stress and burnout. But her heart, soul and mind have always been filled with seeds, shoots, sprouts and buds. Over 30 years ago, Sue Stuart-Smith and her husband Tom Stuart-Smith, the celebrated garden designer, created the wonderful Barn Garden on Serge Hill in the English county of Hertfordshire.

As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Sue Stuart-Smith is convinced that connectedness with nature can radically improve human health, mood and self-confidence. Her book The Well-Gardened Mind analyses the relationship between gardening and mental health. It is scientific, personal and poetic. It has already become a bestseller – also outside the UK – and was listed as one of the 37 best books of 2020 by The Times.

Anna Tatarska: Gardening, working with soil and being close to nature can do wonders for the human brain. I think it’s safe to say this assumption is the starting point of your book The Well-Gardened Mind. How exactly does nature influence us?

Sue Stuart-Smith: The first thing you have to remember is that humans evolved as hunter-gatherers. The natural world is our habitat; our brains, bodies, our immune system are tuned into certain stimuli in the natural world. When we’re completely deprived of nature, we suffer. There’s all the research – such as that conducted by Roger Ulrich – which shows how directly human bodies are linked to nature. For example, looking at green, non-threatening, beautiful landscapes, maybe with some water. What the great painters painted. For our remote forebears in pre-history, such an environment would have signalled: Green vegetation. Water. Somewhere to sleep safely. This is a good place for survival! And we still react to them in the same way. That signal is translated into our body and can be physiologically tracked – the heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops. The parasympathetic nervous system goes into relaxation, rest and digest mode. It happens within minutes. After about 30 minutes, people’s levels of salivary cortisol starts to come down. In one experiment, they had gardeners


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Grab a Spade and Get Digging! Grab a Spade and Get Digging!
Illustration from "Grand voyages" by Théodore de Bry, 1596, The New York Public Library/Rawpixel (public domain)

Grab a Spade and Get Digging!

An Interview with Witold Szwedkowski
Marta Anna Zabłocka

Witold Szwedkowski, poet and Urban Guerrilla Gardening activist, talks about backyard policy, the spade as a tool of rebellion, and the subversive potential of the pumpkin.

Let’s start with a mindful walk. Think about what you see – how many trees do you pass, what are they, do you know them? The guerrilla needs to survey their area of operation. They must estimate the strength of the enemy – the enemy being the excessive use of concrete. They must sound out the weak points and attack there, firing off seedlings, plunging in a shovel. The guerrilla does not lash out at officials, drivers, or those who are disgruntled at the sight of falling leaves. The guerrilla is against the overuse of concrete – vast stretches of granite, oceans of asphalt and rivers of bitumen. These are the things that leave cities lacking in greenery. And we fight lack of greenery guerrilla-style.

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