Accepted paper:

Plants and gardens: a source of sensual memory, a therapeutic resource and an instrument of public health policy


Anne Jepson (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

How are plants and gardens a resource for continuity and kinship ties in times of extreme stress such as forced migration; age/dementia related moves from home, mental illness and other social/life-course discontinuities?

Paper long abstract:

An interest in our sensual experience of the world is relatively new in the social sciences. It challenges existing theories of experience and representation, and recognises the fundamental place of the senses in mediation between the self and environment, object and idea, and place and memory. My paper will explore the therapeutic and social significance of plants, gardens, soil and landscape; how our sensory and bodily experience of them is bound with our experience of kin and relationships, our memory, our rooting practices, and our connection and reconnection with home and place. The consequent usefulness in therapeutic terms of the elements of a garden can heightened in times of extreme stress such as forced migration, mental illness or age/dementia-related moves from home. Plants and gardens have a unique double aspect in such contexts: they are inherently ephemeral; they can easily be removed, but equally provide a means to establish 'roots', to embed things in the soil, but also figuratively. They require a relationship beyond the internalised experience of crisis - with soil, seeds, plants, but can recreate a familiar (positive) sensual experience, of nurturing, care, memory, taste and smell etc. This paper will inform continuing research that addresses policy that states that interaction with outdoor environments is beneficial for well-being; social science research that demonstrates that sensual experience can mediate memory and experienced (internalised) disorder, and a literature on therapeutic horticulture that has not yet been linked. Plants and their reproductive capacities, manipulated by people and cultural practices, parallel our kin relationships and the movement of migrants.

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