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Cultural Gardener Recommends...

For National Gardening Week we asked our Cultural Gardener, Katy Merrington, what gardening books she has been reading in 2020. Here are her top three recommendations.

These books have all been published in the last few months and feel like serendipitous gifts, having been put out into the world at this particular moment of lockdown, as we are forced to live within the confines of the piece of ground right under our feet. Each book is about how plants and gardens can uplift and re-root us and as Sue Stuart-Smith says, how gardening can ‘help us find or re-find our place in the world when we feel we have lost it’.

The Well Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith

The Well Gardened Mind is a powerfully insightful book and essential reading right now. Sue is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist and over the past 30 years she has created the Barn Garden in Hertfordshire, with her husband Tom Stuart-Smith, the designer of The Hepworth Wakefield Garden. A few summers ago, we interviewed Tom in their beautiful garden so you can get a glimpse of it here.

Sue weaves together magical experiences of gardening at home, with the latest research in neuroscience. She beautifully unravels some of the mysteries of why working with soil, plants and nature can feel so nourishing. It is full of research and enquiry, profiling inspiring projects around the world that are currently using gardening in different ways to wonderfully transform lives.

There are many reasons why I became completely captivated with gardening and sought it out as a career, and one of the reasons is that you are not alone in it, Sue describes this beautifully, ‘I see gardening as a reiteration; I do a bit then nature does her bit, then I respond to that, and so it goes on, not unlike a conversation.’

The Hepworth Wakefield Garden is a place for people, where families meander and enjoy the flowers, where volunteers come together to work, where school groups can be creative. Sue explores why ‘people connect more easily when they are in nature together’ and it fills me with inspiration for all that the new garden at the gallery can become and mean to people. This is a brilliant book and it is one of those books that once you’ve read it, you wonder how you got by without it beforehand.

Rootbound - Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent

The lockdown has turned our lives upside down and we’ve all had to restrict the places that we inhabit. Alice Vincent captures a personal journey from dislocating heartbreak, to finding solace in a growing love of gardening, of green calm, of plants and natural places.

Alice Vincent is Features Editor at Penguin Books, having previously worked as a writer and editor on the arts desk of the Telegraph. Rootbound is a lovely mix of deeply personal recollections combined with a compelling delight in learning the knack and the know-how of gardening and a charming curiosity in uncovering the history of urban green places.

Vincent’s book captures with honesty the hopscotch of urban, millennial living. In gardening the balcony at her apartment, she demonstrates that you can find comfort and connection in plants right where you are, in what-ever small space you have and that you can find beauty in the small moments of green life all around the city.

Alice Vincent reads an extract from her book, Rootbound

The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet by Dave Goulson

Dave Goulson’s The Garden Jungle is about the incredible wildlife that is living right now, right where we are – at home, in our gardens and in our local parks. Dave’s excitement at the lives of these unappreciated creatures rubs off on you and you come away with a sense of wonder, like a ten-year-old, full of facts – did you know earwigs are very attentive mothers, they shepherd their young brood together ‘like a mother duck with her ducklings’?

Dave Goulson is a professor of biology who specialises in bumblebee ecology and founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. The picture for biodiversity in Britain today is alarming and we are still destroying natural habitats and species at an astounding rate, however Dave’s book is not gloomy, rather he wakes you up to the opportunities for hope and common sense to prevail.

He gives practical tips for encouraging biodiversity in our own gardens and reminds us to cultivate wonder and curiosity about all creatures, because as we are increasingly finding, our lives are interwoven. It turns out that what is good for nature is also good for us!

“I turn to gardening as a way of calming and decompressing my mind. Somehow the jangle of competing thoughts inside my head clears and settles as the weed bucket fills up. Ideas that have been lying dormant come to the surface and thoughts that are barely formed sometimes come together and unexpectedly take shape. At times like these, it feels as if… I am also gardening my mind.” Sue Stuart-Smith