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The Well-Gardened Mind

The Restorative Power of Nature

A distinguished psychiatrist and avid gardener offers an inspiring and consoling work about the healing effects of gardening and its ability to decrease stress and foster mental well-being in our everyday lives.

The garden is often seen as a refuge, a place to forget worldly cares, removed from the “real” life that lies outside. But when we get our hands in the earth we connect with the cycle of life in nature through which destruction and decay are followed by regrowth and renewal. Gardening is one of the quintessential nurturing activities and yet we understand so little about it. The Well-Gardened Mind provides a new perspective on the power of gardening to change people’s lives. Here, Sue Stuart-Smith investigates the many ways in which mind and garden can interact and explores how the process of tending a plot can be a way of sustaining an innermost self.

Stuart-Smith’s own love of gardening developed as she studied to become a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. From her grandfather’s return from World War I to Freud’s obsession with flowers to case histories with her own patients to progressive gardening programs in such places as Rikers Island prison in New York City, Stuart-Smith weaves thoughtful yet powerful examples to argue that gardening is much more important to our cognition than we think. Recent research is showing how green nature has direct antidepressant effects on humans. Essential and pragmatic, The Well-Gardened Mind is a book for gardeners and the perfect read for people seeking healthier mental lives.

Photograph © Harry Stuart-Smith

Sue Stuart-Smith, a prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist, took her degree in English literature at Cambridge before qualifying as a doctor. She worked in the National Health Service for many years, becoming the lead clinician for psychotherapy in Hertfordshire. She currently teaches at The Tavistock Clinic in London and is consultant to the DocHealth service. She is married to Tom Stuart-Smith, the celebrated garden designer, and, over thirty years together, they have created the wonderful Barn Garden in Hertfordshire.

“[Stuart-Smith] delivers a thoroughly researched text based on her deep and wide reading about the history of gardening, her visits to many of the therapeutic garden sites she mentions, and her interviews with many people, professionals and patients alike...Full of surprise and wonder.” 
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review

“Fascinating… Sue Stuart-Smith renders a very special service with this book. Let’s hope it reaches not only the converted but those who need it most.”
The Observer (UK)

“This is a life-affirming study of the special pleasures of tending your garden and growing things…[Stuart-Smith’s] heartfelt arguments for the benefits of nature and gardening for our mental health are informed by research in neuroscience and the evidence of patients who have improved through therapeutic gardening.”
The Guardian (UK)

“Wise, insightful, and eloquent, Stuart-Smith’s soulful and sensitive treatise on horticulture’s healing properties is a well-positioned book for the current age of anxiety, offering a personally relevant perspective on how to cope in troubled times.”
Booklist

“This is a book so wise and comfortable that it merits a place alongside Christopher Lloyd’s The Well-Tempered Garden by the side of every bed…[Stuart-Smith’s] deep understanding of the human psyche makes this a perfect source text as well as an engrossing read.” 
Illustrated Garden magazine

“A truly uplifting book on the power of gardening – and how it can change people’s lives.” 
Stylist (UK)

“The most original gardening book ever....Combines observation, horticulture, literature and history…it is a book that builds, chapter by chapter….as a reference and an inspiration…there is much here to feed the soul.” Sunday Times (UK)

“In this gentle and wise book, Sue Stuart-Smith explores the vigorous relationship between the land and mental health, demonstrating the many occasions and ways that gardening can strengthen our inner vitality. In examining working of the land as a psychodynamic process, she exposes deep truths about the interconnectedness of the mind, the body, and what lies outside ourselves, and she does so with a winning mix of verve and generosity.”
—Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree

“A compelling and deeply moving account of how profoundly our wellbeing can be affected through contact with gardening and the natural world. This is a timely call of return. Read it.”
—Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes

“This is an important and timely book. Mental health is a growing concern and yet is the least developed, least understood and least well-resourced aspect of medicine. Sue Stuart-Smith’s book is beautifully written, drawing on a lifetime’s experience as both as a clinician and a gardener, and I urge everyone to read it.”
Monty Don of the BBC’s “Gardeners’ World”

“Fascinating in its content, lyrical, moving and elegantly written, The Well Gardened Mind explores and celebrates the very real connection we humans feel with plants and by extension, our gardens.”
—Rachel de Thame of the BBC’s “Gardeners’ World”

“Riveting, inspiring and often very moving, Sue Stuart-Smith's journey into the therapy of gardening reveals just how deep our connection with nature is, how much we risk when we cut ourselves off from it, and how much we can gain from its restorative power. A lively, compassionate exhortation for us all to get our hands back in the soil.”
Isabella Tree, author of Wilding

“The wisest book I’ve read in many years. You don’t have to be a gardener or own a garden to take immense solace and pleasure from this remarkable book. Dr. Stuart-Smith doesn’t presume to make absurd and extravagant claims, but everything she says about the mind (and I’ve learned so much in the way of the history of psychiatry and psychology, as well as practical tips for both mind and garden) has the ring of authenticity and truth. Hugely recommended.”
Stephen Fry