The Good Enough Garden-Coping with Crisis

The New Yorker August 24, 2020 pp20-24 |Annals of Horticulture| “Nature and Nurture” “A therapist and her husband, garden designer, urge us to seek solace in plants” By Rebecca Mead

Napa. Photo Mark Stene.

“In bleak times, a garden’s cyclical replenishment promises some kind of future.”


A delightful and insightful piece about this unique British couple; Sue Stuart-Smith (Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and author of her new book “The Well-Gardened Mind” and Tom Stuart Smith Garden Designer and author of “The Barn Garden: Making a Place”, and how they found common ground in gardening and psychology.

As it turns out crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, bring out even more connection with gardening. Unbeknownst to many, gardening is a remarkably popular pastime and as will be explained for good reason. Regarding the pandemic-infused surge, gardening in one light is practical as we worried about the ongoing availability of fresh herbs and vegetables. In another and more important light gardening offers mental health benefits. So therapeutic that in Britain you might get a “‘social prescription’ to do something like volunteer at a local community garden, believing that such work can sometimes be as beneficial as talk therapy or antidepressants.” One patient is quoted as saying being in the garden “It is the only time I feel I am good” which Sue explains “that feeling one is good-rather than merely feeling good-is an example of gardening’s reparative power.” Sue reflects further, drawing on theme from Donald Winnicott (British psychoanalyst and pediatrician deceased 1971), that a garden is an “’in-between’ space that allows the inner and the outer worlds to coexist simultaneously-‘a meeting place for our innermost, dream-infused selves and the real physical world’.” Also reflecting on Winnicott, Tom and Sue reassure us that like “One of Winnicott’s most important contributions to child psychology was to define the notion of the ‘good enough’ mother, who by being less than perfect, and by occasionally frustrating her baby’s demands, helps him learn where she ends and he begins.” Like the good enough mother, we should realize that gardens are not flawless year-round and that a garden is ‘fundamentally a process-there is change and sometimes it is dying, and sometimes it is hibernating.” So Tom instructs “it’s much more to do with how you feel about your garden than how it looks.” We have ties to the plants, the garden snails, the wildlife-the spring bunnies, the fawns, the bird nests and hovering hummingbirds.

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