Oscar Wilde famously said, “the Book of Life begins in a garden”. He was speaking about the Paradise myth in the first book of Genesis, but in fact most of the world’s great religions have featured a garden as a sacred space. Gardens have featured in civilisations from the very earliest times, and I don’t believe you need be religious to share the feeling that gardens have a special place in our spiritual psyches.
In the days when I worked as a psychotherapist with trauma sufferers, those with inherited family trauma or with PTSD, I often prescribed working, or simply sitting and resting in a garden. The physical activity of digging, planting, cutting back and mowing, weeding and gathering gives an over-taxed body a sense of new life and vigour. It can release tense muscles and fill the lungs with enlivening breath. The effect of green on the brain through the eye is now known to be calming and restoring. There are more varieties of green than any other colour and research suggests that we, as human animals, are programmed to be especially sensitive to greens, since nature is out natural environment.
As with so many of those fortunate enough to have or be near a garden, I spent much of lockdown working in a garden – a peculiarly lucky break for me as I had started writing my latest novel, The Gardener, just weeks before the first lockdown. I found writing the book in the mornings, working in the afternoons in the untended garden of the little cottage I had rented in order to write the book, and then reworking what I had written in the evenings, made the perfect routine for my locked-down days. As well as bringing the garden back to life, I relished becoming reacquainted with the birdlife that proliferated during this period of quiet and also reminiscing on my own life – not to mention the various gardens I have known, both real and fictional.
Here are some of the books that have either affected me or I recommend to gardeners or would-be gardeners: