Reflections with Sue Tredget 

‘Il faut cultiver son jardin’  – Voltaire

I’ve always loved gardens. Some of my earliest memories are of summer days spent at my grandmother’s house, playing on the lawn, climbing trees, picking raspberries, or running through the water from the hosepipe to cool off – no bans in the north of England! Out in the garden, any garden, was my very favourite place to be as a child.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit many of the renowned gardens of Europe, from the clipped precision and symmetry of classical French gardens and the romance of the Tivoli gardens near Rome, to the breathtaking beauty of the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville. But gardens don’t need to be grand in scale to enchant. A few potted plants in a shady courtyard can weave their own kind of magic and soothe the soul.

One of my favourite childhood books was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is the story of Mary Lennox, a spoilt and selfish 10-year old who goes to stay with her uncle following the death of her parents. Mary’s determination to hate everything and everyone begins to change when she finds a buried key which unlocks a hidden walled garden. As Mary begins clearing, weeding and tending the overgrown garden, her interaction with nature spurs a transformation. She becomes kinder and more considerate, and as the garden blooms she opens her heart and discovers the joy of friendship and the wonder of nature.

As a child I simply enjoyed the book as a great story well told, but as an adult the deeper meaning is clear. The Secret Garden is ultimately a book about self-healing, happiness, personal growth, the magic of nature and its effect on the human spirit.

It was befitting that PLC Open Garden Day was held at the conclusion of Wellbeing Week last month. I raced around the houses in between lessons and during lunchtime, grateful for the generosity of the owners in sharing the beauty of their own slice of paradise and wishing I could have spent more time in each.

While gardening itself is a good way to stay physically fit and flexible, and improve wellbeing, studies have shown that simply being in a garden for up to an hour each day can reduce levels of the hormone cortisol, promote better sleep, improve energy and self-esteem and dispel negative thoughts. In focussing on something beautiful and natural, something other than ourselves, we can calm our nerves and reduce blood pressure. Doctors have even prescribed gardening as an effective treatment for depression and found that it reduces the need for medication.

I was interested to read that some charities in the UK offer gardening therapy using walled gardens to create a healing environment and a sense of secure enclosure. Gardens are the perfect setting for meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness (as well as plants), and a number of studies have linked time spent in gardens and nature with increased creativity. The many poems, books and works of art inspired by the natural world are testament to this.

Urban initiatives that encourage the establishment of community gardens have proven to be a great way to bring people together, create new friendships and foster a sense of purpose and belonging, as well as providing fresh and healthy food for the neighbourhood.

We don’t all have the time, or the expertise, to create a gardening masterpiece to rival those on show during Open Garden Day, but we can all plant a few pots, or some herbs, and reap the benefits. Planting something and watching it grow is immensely rewarding. And even if we don’t have our own garden, we can all take the time to appreciate the natural beauty of our surroundings.

So, head to a tranquil corner of the school grounds, or to a park or garden, and cultivate calmness, sow some serenity, propagate positivity, grow some goodness. You will surely enjoy harvesting the happiness that ensues!

‘Verde, que te quiero verde’  – Federico García Lorca
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