“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good…” While we are all confined to barracks, or, more pleasurably, to our own home in the tropics, the privation has, ironically, opened up a wonderful opportunity for us – the chance to appreciate our gardens anew. Beyond their walls, Mother Nature is herself enjoying a welcome respite from man’s incessant predations: less pollution, less plastic, less pandemonium, fewer people. More opportunity for the planet’s besieged and threatened creatures to get their breath, maybe their lives back.
But the garden is unique: a natural location where man’s presence is not only necessary, but invariably positive. A symbiotic arrangement. Not only is the gardener good for the garden, the garden is good for the gardener. Have you ever encountered an unhappy tiller of the soil? Not often, I would guess. From the time when mentally disturbed Egyptian royalty were prescribed soothing walks in palace parks, to the use of therapeutic gardening to assist World War One soldiers with nerves frayed by gunfire and mud, there has been a proven nexus between such “green” activities and improved physical and mental rates of recovery – including reduced stress, a keener sense of well-being, even increased self-esteem. In his 17th century poem “The Garden”, Andrew Marvell famously described such immersion as trance-like: “annihilating all that’s made/ To a green thought in a green shade.”
In fact, the natural world has long been lauded by writers able to empathise with its ‘good vibrations’. Thus the Romantic poet William Wordsworth writing more than two centuries ago:
One impulse from a vernal wood
Shall teach us more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
An extravagant claim. However, what he means is something all nature lovers and, one hopes, all gardeners believe in, the restorative and benevolent force of nature. In what is more a Buddhist than Christian “impulse”, the poet avers that walking in a wood where spring is springing is an enspiriting experience, a place where we feel a sense of kinship with other living things, in harmony with the universe.
While few of us today nowadays enjoy such a bucolic existence, every gardener can testify to the therapeutic power of Mother Nature. If we cannot walk among the bluebells in a “vernal wood”, or marvel at a tropic lake ablaze with lotus blooms, where better to experience the presence of nature than in our own garden; smelling the earth after a freshening shower, inhaling the perfume from a jasmine flower , or listening to a chorus of cicadas.
Personally, I experience another more mundane benefit – a sense of optimism and satisfaction at the very thought of all that springing, magical growth that is silently happening beyond the house walls – buds opening, roots delving, leaving unfurling, seeds sprouting, flowers bursting into bloom. Come a new day, I venture out into a kaleidoscopic world, a living tapestry where everything has subtly changed.
There is growing evidence [no pun intended] that gardening helps in other, measurable ways. In an increasingly urbanized world , the presence of plants, particularly trees and shrubs in our own borders or in nearby parks and communal gardens, enriches the very air we breathe. All photosynthesizing plants act as a sink for potentially harmful carbon dioxide, sequestering the greenhouse gas, and releasing life-enhancing oxygen into the atmosphere. Just for the record, they also intercept harmful airborne particulates, save water through their roots and leaves, and prevent flooding.
One study recently found that green plants prevented nearly a million cases of respiratory disease, and removed in one year an estimated 17 tons of atmospheric pollutants. Six leafy trees provides enough oxygen for one person. Who knows, they could be an unseen ally in the fight against Covid 19… And the nearer these plants are to human habitation, the greater their health-giving impact on people’s lives. Trees in your garden? An especial treasure. Nor are we the only beneficiaries Shrubs and leafy trees provide cover and nesting areas for birds; your lily pond is home to frogs and fishes; the nectar of flowers is life-sustaining for butterflies and bees.
In material terms, gardens increase property values and help pay the grocery bill. If you have a garden in Thailand, there is little excuse for not growing your own produce since most of the world’s edible fruits and vegetables thrive in this most fecund of environments. Your local market demonstrates what local growers can do. Are you doing likewise?
The garden is a microcosm of the world at large – the natural world. Today, its ecological importance has never been greater- and is getting more and more so. As green spaces vanish everywhere, as habitats for wild creatures shrink and as man is increasingly confined to an unnatural existence in apartment or condominium , our gardens and even our pot-lined patios fulfill a crucial role – oases of greenery in our concrete jungles. Tend and nurture your garden, In so doing, you will be nurturing yourself.
Patrick’s book ‘The Tropic Gardener’, the culmination of 13 years of writing about tropical plants and their cultivation in Phuket, is now available. Promotional price of B900, including post and packing. Dr Patrick Campbell can be contacted at his home Camelot, located at 59/84 Soi Saiyuan 13; Rawai; Phuket 83130. Tel:66 076613227 (land line), 0655012326 or 0857827551 (mobile).