The following letter, recently received, is a gracious illustration of this belief. Please pardon my immodesty in quoting from it. Diane writes:
‘You remind me of two people I admire greatly. Gardening is not only great for the soul, it strengthens our physical health. When I was a young law student… I lived in a gorgeous home with an 88-year-old widow who kept perennially young by taking in three boarders. She had a gigantic English-style garden and my room with terrace overlooked the magnificent garden. This lady did all her own gardening, save for cutting the grass, and she got upset with herself whenever she forgot the Latin name for a flower! She took the tube alone at age 93 to shop for antiques and lived to the great age of 103.
My mother is half English and half Scandinavian. Her brother lived well into his nineties and he too was an avid and extremely talented gardener, as well as his English wife. How I adored visiting them and walking about in their garden.’
She concludes by saying: ‘You are certain to live a very long and healthy life.’ Amen to that…
Diana is in exalted company. Since time immemorial, writers from Andrew Marvell in ‘The Garden’ to the Romantic poet William Wordsworth and the American naturalist Henry Thoreau have celebrated the good vibrations that emanate from the natural world.
As for the physical benefits that accrue from communing with nature in the shape of gardening , a recent survey from Michigan State University concluded that not only does gardening reduce the onset of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and senility, it offers a more pleasurable way of taking exercise. Research showed that gardeners spent more time every week tending their flowers than those who chose walking or biking as their main source of exercise.
And even when we have rested from our labours, benefits can persist. For my own part, I take daily pleasure from imagining all that magical, springing vegetable growth that is taking place, silent and unseen, beyond my bedroom walls: buds opening, leaves unfurling, roots delving, flowers blooming. Come a new day, I will venture out into a kaleidoscopic world, a living tapestry where everything has been subtly transfigured.
It does not stop there. Gardening helps in other, more measurable ways. In our modern concrete jungles, the presence of shrubs and trees in our borders or in nearby parks , enriches the very air we breathe. All green plants absorb potentially harmful carbon dioxide through photosynthesis: they sequester the gas and release life-enhancing oxygen back into the atmosphere. A study recently found that trees prevented nearly a million cases of respiratory diseases. Put another way, trees remove 17 million tons of atmospheric pollution every year. Moreover, leafy shrubs and trees not only intercept these harmful airborne articulates, but save water, prevent soil erosion and prevent flooding. Quite a list. Yet we continue to destroy everything green from mangrove swamps and equatorial rain forests to individual trees that get in the way of ‘progress’ in the form of new buildings or roads. Do all in your power to grow trees in your garden. An especial treasure.
My daughter is fortunate enough to own a 10-acre bluebell wood as part of her expanded ‘garden’ in rural England. In the spring, the whole area is a blue floral carpet, luminous beneath the budding hornbeam trees. While few of us today have the opportunity to wander in pristine woods or commune with Mother Nature in her sublimer moments, we still may, like Diana’s lady, take pleasure and solace in cultivating a garden. Even a row of container plants on a concrete balcony is better than nothing.
It is not just man who benefits. Gardens are a haven for innumerable species of insects, including bees and butterflies, our chief pollinators. Shrubs and leafy trees provide cover for birds, places where they can nest in safety. Every year, sun-birds and yellow-vented bulbuls raise their young in my cristina bushes; every sunny day, the skinks warm themselves on my pool surrounds.
Since time immemorial, the garden has been a precious microcosm of the natural world. Today, its ecological importance is huge and getting huger. As green spaces vanish, as habitats for wild creatures shrink, and as man is increasingly confined to an unnatural existence in an apartment or condominium, our gardens fulfil a key role – oases of greenery in our desert town-scapes.
Tend and nurture your garden In so doing you will be nurturing yourself.
Dr Patrick Campbell can be contacted at his home Camelot, located at 59/84 Soi Saiyuan 13; Rawai; Phuket 83130. Tel:66 076613227 (landline), 0655012326 or 0857827551 (mobile). His book “The Tropic Gardener”, an indispensable guide to plants and their cultivation in Thailand, is available from Seng Ho bookshop in Phuket Town or Delish in Rawai, or arrange a copy to be delivered by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.