It must be the same for Doctors, as when I tell a new acquaintance ‘I am a gardener’ they start to describe their gardening woes. Once people know you have expertise in an area, they are keen to test it. Being able to diagnose plant problems on the spur of the moment and coming up with a suitable solution has become a bit of a party trick.
I do have a bit of an advantage. In my last job, once a month we’d have a phone-in. People could call us with their plant problems and, like a horticultural agony aunts, we would try to solve them. It soon became clear that there were common themes and some problems made regular appearances. People struggled with pruning their plum trees, dealing with rose diseases (like black spot) and wanted to improve their tired lawns. I began to quite enjoy the problems, especially the more obscure ones. The researcher in me loved the process of narrowing down what it could be, and finding a solution.
I still enjoy this green-fingered challenge in my own garden. I try to avoid plants that I know will have issues, but when I spot a sick plant I try to discover the causes, and figure out how to solve it. Some people do have ‘blindspots’ and will always struggle with something. I know of experienced gardeners who can grow almost anything, but struggle to produce a carrot. In most instances, the best treatment is actually just a bit of TLC. Feeding, watering or pruning will all help to stimulate strong, healthy growth. A plant that is thriving is less likely than a stressed plant to have a problem in the first place. It must be a similar feeling for a doctor with their patients; to see a plant recover is a massive boost to one’s confidence in the garden.
To nurture life is a fundamental urge we all have, whether it is our plants, our pets, or children, family and friends. This experience has a positive effect on both those giving and those receiving the care. The restorative effects of plants have been recognised for some time. In 1979 Robert Ulrich demonstrated that viewing natural scenes lessened the effects of stress induced by exams. A further study in 1984 showed patients had improved recovery after surgery if their rooms had a view of a green space rather than a building.
I wonder if perhaps there is an inherent link between us and our environments. Not only do we need to see and experience nature to be better people, but nature also needs us to act as its benevolent protector, so it can also fully realise its own potential.