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Winter isn’t an easy season to love. For gardeners, it can be seen as a time of torpor, a period to be endured before spring’s bright-eyed arrival.

But that’s not the case for Joanna Geyer-Kordesch, who has come to appreciate winter and makes a positive case for it that reflects her experience of adapting to a life-changing disability.

Joanna retired as Professor of European Natural History and History of Medicine at Glasgow University in 2006 but then suffered a stroke in 2012 that left her with no movement in the right side of her body.

Her garden in East Lothian provided a recovery focus which she writes about in her new book 'Why Gardens Matter': ‘What really helped was to appreciate the growth and the regeneration in winter which spurs new growth in the next spring,’ Joanna writes.

The regeneration of plant life shows it is vital to see the importance of 'fallow periods and renewed variants of growth. Steps forward need pauses.’

Why Gardens Matter

From talking to Joanna, it is clear the pause in her own life caused by the stroke has led to a deeper appreciation of gardens, and their historical role, and she is keen to encourage others to experience their life-enhancing benefits.

‘My garden is very important I don’t know how I could have lived without it,’ says Joanna. ‘Early in the morning I look at the plants in my pots, like the Woolly lip fern, and they look the same but of course they are growing all the time. You have to pay attention.’

Although her garden has played an important role in Joanna’s rehabilitation, she is honest about the impact of being disabled and expresses frustration in her book at not being taken seriously ‘just because I am in a wheelchair’.

‘It is horrible that physical disablement reigns over mental capacity when the world outside looks at you.’

Yet 'Why Gardens Matter' is not a pity party, but an exhortation to see plants and gardens as ways to find enrichment, peace and creativity.

‘It benefits me to get out into the garden in my wheelchair and take that time for myself, to be transported from your own worries to an appreciation of leaves, flowers and trees,’ says Joanna.

That’s why she is an advocate of people spending time outside to take notice of their plants and getting to know their gardens across the seasons.

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That appreciation has sparked creativity, with Joanna learning to paint left-handed, an activity alongside talking about plants that brings her joy.

Joanna’s artistic work is scattered across the pages of the book but learning to paint, and write, left-handed required plenty of persistence, yet drawing on her powers of imagination and creativity were powerful drivers when she felt low.

‘Gardens are the deep well of healing’, says Joanna, ‘It took me about two years to contain the huge scribbling of my left hand as I switched over from what had been the elegant, small writing I used to do with my right. Now… I don’t throw away the bad [paintings] because I learn from them.’

'Why Gardens Matter' is not only a testimony to how gardens have helped Joanna cope with a defining moment in her life, but a timely encouragement for us all to explore and find peace and imaginative stimulation among them.

* 'Why Gardens Matter' is published by Luath Press

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