Nature can help us through these dark times: guest blog by Matthew Shaw

This morning I woke up very early, we had a family birthday to celebrate, and there are still things worth celebrating. Not that it felt that way before the dawn. Especially not if you looked at the news, listened to the radio or opened a news app.

A few hours later, I found myself sitting and looking out into the garden with the sun shining brightly, it made me smile and go outside. There is nothing else quite like engaging with our gardens, woods, coast and countryside in real life.

I remember when I wasn’t able to just step outside. At the time I was in hospital for a long stay and facing an uncertain future. I could see the top of a tree though from the hospital bed.

I thought of those people around the world in self-isolation, through illness, precaution or fear.

It’s important for us to remain connected with those we love and not to get lonely in these situations. It’s good to be aware of what is happening out there, though not to the point where fear or panic take over. We need to find ways to keep positive for us to get through this.

While in hospital, having that very slight connection with nature outside of the window, gave me hope. There was still a world outside waiting for me. The tree was fast losing its leaves, but for now the red and brown leaves were beautiful. The tree was doing what trees do, with the certainty that the spring would come around again, and the cycle would continue.

The other thing I remember well was the importance of books and listening to music. There were two books I found especially moving and beautiful. One was Wildwood by Roger Deakin, the other was Derek Jarman’s Garden. Both of these were written under adverse conditions, both written by people facing their own mortality, both with a sense of optimism, acceptance and love.

Derek Jarman’s garden is a powerful place to visit. The whole concept of the garden shows the power of nature to survive in the harsh conditions of Dungeness. The book is a beautiful document, full of photographs by Howard Sooley. The pale blue scabious, red valerian, California poppy and cotton lavender, inspired me to grow some of the plants for myself at home.

I’m not sure what the advice should be right now for walking in the woods, but Roger Deakin’s book makes it impossible not to want to. If it’s not possible or you are currently indoors then let Wildwood transport you. Starting in Suffolk, we visit Roger’s wooden house, listen to the owls, and stare at the stars on a clear night. Then the journey begins, first of all through southern England before taking us as far afield as Asia and Australia. As well as the geographic travel we are also treated to visiting many species of trees along the way, and learn of the way we have lived and have evolved alongside these trees. Roger died shortly after completing Wildwood and Derek Jarman moved to Prospect cottage in Dungeness after being diagnosed HIV positive.

Can ill health, adversity and our relationship with time, help us to see more clearly what really matters? Is it possible to find the deepest peace, when things are at their most turbulent?

I sent a message to Miles King, asking if People Need Nature could share a piece of nature writing. Something to lift the spirits, without giving false hope in the current situation, but to offer some respite.

People Need Nature represents and explores our connection with the natural world that we are a part of. What else is there to recommend to readers and those that follow People Need Nature?

Along with the two books I found most helpful back in hospital, I wonder what other books have helped or inspired anybody reading this? We plan to keep a regular feature going these next few weeks, a chance to read, to write to each other and to share our recommendations and those things that help us through. We would love to publish these, if you would like to share them with us.

As I’m typing this, I look out to the garden and see the flowering star magnolia, the new bright green leaves on the hawthorn and the catkins on the willow. The sycamore at the bottom of the garden is silhouetted against a bright blue sky. The blackbirds are gathering twigs and moss to build new nests. We have starlings, a robin, jays, jackdaws, white collared doves, dunnocks, magpies, a blue tit, a long tailed tit and house sparrows visiting. The resident pigeon is sat on the fence, looking very plump. Looking at the news was making me feel worried, depressed even. The garden gives me hope, and more than that practical work to do and the enjoyment of seeing things progress and grow and change.

Returning to books, I’m currently reading about the Bloomsbury group in Sussex and the South Downs. The reading began as research for a project that may or may not happen, the way things are looking now.
For now though, I’m going to lose myself in the South Downs, take a walk through Crowlink, down to the sea. It’s far more appealing than reading about Boris Johnson changing his mind about event and school closures.

If it all seems a but too much for you, then please take a while to find some peace in your garden if you have one. Sow some seeds and with any luck when the flowers, fruit or vegetables appear we will all be in a world that feels more secure once again.

If you have book recommendations then we would love to share them here, please tell us about those books you’ve read recently that you would like to recommend, and why. We’ll publish them here and perhaps we can read together and share our thoughts. A People Need Nature book club anyone?

Matthew Shaw is a composer and poet. He has just joined the People Need Nature Trustee Board. Find him on twitter @apollolaan and his website is

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