A few neighbours have mentioned how relieved they feel that at least the pandemic struck during early spring and not in the bleak winter months. I totally agree.

During the first few sombre weeks of lockdown, we could linger on people’s front gardens during our walks. The tall golden daffodils and bright scarlet tulips were a comfort and a distraction; it was wonderful to see glorious white poppies, roses of every colour and peonies blooming majestically along with blossoming cherry trees and the subtle scent of honeysuckle.

In a time of such upheaval, many of us are turning to nature for solace and reconnecting with parks, green spaces and gardens.

In recent months there have been several non-fiction books and memoirs published on the positive power of nature, exploring how our green spaces are restorative and support our psychological health. The Diary of a Young Naturalist by McAnulty has been praised for its lyrical nature writing and Hardman’s The Natural Health Service ruminates on the power of nature as a tonic.

Turning away from our indoor lives can have a hugely healing effect on us, lifting our spirits, calming our overactive brains and emotional anxieties. Nature reminds us of the inherent cycle of life of which we are a part, that constant rebirth and the beautiful respite it offers from our frantic 21st century lives.

In her new book, The Well-gardened Mind, Sue Stuart Smith reminds us how gardening has been a civilising influence for thousands of years and how we can learn and become enriched by it. As a psychiatrist, she offers her readers many examples of its healing influence within institutions, during wartime and after more recent natural disasters.

Stuart-Smith mentions how Voltaire planted thousands of trees on his land in eastern France and claimed that it was the only sensible thing he’d done in his life! Freud was an avid orchid lover and cherished his garden in West Hampstead, and Jung maintained that a patch of green or a blossoming tree in urban settings is “nourishment for our psyche”.

As the likelihood of a recession looms, I’m thinking about having another go at creating a vegetable patch in our garden. I remember growing carrots when my daughter was little and how impatient she became! “C’mon mum, when are they ready? It’s been months!”

Instead of suggesting that we had to wait just one more week, I gave in to her demands and we plucked the carrots out of the soil. The next thing I knew, my five-year old daughter was standing there holding up a small bunch of long, skinny and scrawny-looking carrots looking pretty disappointed!

Fortunately, a few years later she joined the gardening club at school, which was somewhat more productive and had great fun working alongside her classmates. “I remember unearthing those potatoes. They were huge!” she reminisces with a smile.

When I was a child, I would sometimes go along to my uncle’s allotment with my cousin after school. He’d be covered in soil and totally immersed in some activity or other, either turning over compost, planting seeds or watering his courgettes while wearing his allotment gear – beige and baggy rolled up trousers and a white short-sleeved shirt.

His small shed was a mess but contained everything he needed. It was his space and I realise now that it must have been his escape from the stresses of raising four children and from his job as a cook. I often wondered why he’d get so excited and even brag about his red tomatoes grown in his mini greenhouse and about how pink and sweet his gigantic rhubarb had grown. Now of course I understand what an amazing feeling it must be to plant and nurture seeds over time then finally to harvest one’s very own creations.

After watching the New York episode of Monty Don’s American Gardens, in which he meanders around Manhattan. I was fascinated to learn about The Target Bronx Community Garden. One of the many thriving gardens and allotments in the heart of New York City wherein neighbours and children from surrounding schools gather to create a beautiful oasis in the neighbourhood.

Monty wanders around picking ripe peaches from the tree then biting into them while chatting with the volunteers. It was fascinating to see such an amazing hub of activity and how the scope of the project has expanded over time, with neat rows of plots for growing vegetables, an open wooden shed where children can sit and read books, a rainwater harvesting system and an outdoor kitchen.

Educational workshops are regularly held, helping children to understand where food comes from and our dependency on our environment. The locals clearly enjoy cultivating the soil, keeping chickens and working as a team, sharing that natural desire and instinctive need to nurture and grow things.

The bright green lawns, large pond, evergreen foliage and rows of fruit trees soften the streetscape and restore a sense of balance. The city allotment hosts summer parties and barbecues where these micro communities come together and celebrate their shared passion, becoming part of a bigger picture.

I wondered whether London has anything similar to offer and was inspired to hear about Social Farms and Gardens, a London charity started by volunteers and treasured by local communities, now boasting more than 15 social farms and many community gardens. These city farms and gardens, hidden in the back streets of London’s housing estates and in disused corners of the city, connect people living in a huge metropolis in areas where people don’t have a garden, thereby making the city greener and happier.

Gardening together has the power to break down social barriers, improve inner city air by planting more trees and increase our connection to the food we eat. City children have a chance to interact with animals, celebrate green spaces and build friendships outside school. So, it would seem that nature not only encourages a deeper awareness of our planetary interconnectedness, but also the one we share with each other. As Shakespeare wrote, “One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin."

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6FM Radio Verulam at www.radioverulam.com/smallcitylife.