During the past year especially, we have heard a lot about the healing powers of green spaces and the vital role they play in maintaining both our physical and mental well-being. I am certainly convinced, and I make daily use of the urban parks in my vicinity for running, walking and the occasional spot of forest bathing. Nor am I alone: the people of Plymouth are making good use of the city’s abundance of open spaces – large and small. Mount Wise and Devils Point parks, both overlooking the sea, are on my doorstep, but I have enjoyed distanced walks with my new-found pals further afield, in Victoria, Devonport and Central Parks. And there are others I have yet to explore, like the Ford Park Cemetery which, I am told, is gem that is mostly left to grow wild, and. the tiny Elizabethan Garden, a ‘secret’ treasure, tucked away in the old part of the Barbican (a place for contemplation rather than exercise).
Although I have never tried my hand at gardening, all this time spent in parks is beginning to nudge me towards the idea of doing some basic gardening, especially when I am being encouraged by green-fingered friends who tell of the feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing brought on by a day’s weeding.
But for those who are unable to get out and about, there is a potential alternative. It is possible to gain some benefit from nature without physically spending time in it. Last week, participating in a visualisation meditation session, we were guided to imagine ourselves in our favourite garden (mine is Applecross Walled Garden) as an exercise in calming and restoring the mind. It worked surprisingly well.
Talk of parks, gardens and gardening has lead me to re-read one of my childhood favourites, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden which, as an adult, I have found to be an amazing mix of dark and light: the dark being a story of neglect, poor parenting and mental illness; and the light being a story of magic, friendship, and practical ways of coping and healing. Burnett was well ahead of her time, understanding and showing so beautifully the benefits of being in nature and of gardening. There are many lovely images that remain with me from the book, but my favourite is the scene when Mary, excited by the arrival of spring, wakes early, runs into the garden and cries to her friend Dickon “I’m so happy I can scarcely breathe!”
The latest film version of The Secret Garden is now out on DVD – a lavish production with fine acting that focuses more on a story of magical escape rather than the tale of self-healing. But what is escapism if not a way of healing?
Happy gardening, reading and viewing.