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The Telegraph

How nature can provide us with solace, even in a locked-down January

It’s “garden to the rescue” again. My family’s positive test result has burst my support bubble, so I’m willing their symptoms to be mild and hoping my immune system remembers it has met this virus before. For now, pruning the wisteria is a welcome distraction. We’ve all found ways to cope. For those lucky to have nature nearby, this often means spending time outside. My Silent Space colleagues have noticed the strategies visitors have developed. Faith Douglas, curator at Thorp Perrow in North Yorkshire, says the arboretum is busier than ever: “Visitors are being more adventurous than usual. Rather than sticking to the tea room and visitor centre loop, they’re exploring further afield. We’ve also seen a big increase in the number of season ticket holders as people are staying local.” Rosie Fyles, head gardener at Ham House, Richmond, has noticed a similar trend: “The biggest change has been the number of people visiting regularly. One couple told me they are here every week. They hadn’t visited before the pandemic. Others tell me that it’s started to feel as if it’s their own garden. They see it as their ‘oasis’.” With a background in mental health nursing, Faith knows that the next few weeks could be difficult. She emphasises the importance of getting outside, whatever the weather. Of course, that isn’t always possible. Gary Webb, of Sulgrave Manor, has a few suggestions: “One way to enjoy gardens and the natural world in winter is through the spoken word. Audiobooks and podcasts, for example, can help you experience a woodland or garden, or the thoughts of the narrator about a special place.” I like the idea of listening and using my imagination. It feels less passive than watching a screen. Gary also recommends bringing the outside in. “Two or three winter stems in a vase, with their sleeping buds, can create an instant connection with the world outside. Or perhaps buy a small pot of plants that look good in winter and put them near a window. They’ll create a hit of interest and colour to keep us going.” Wherever we are, it’s worth taking time to notice the small changes as new life begins to appear. As Rosie says: “Birdsong was one of the soundtracks of the first lockdown. In the past few weeks, I’ve started to notice it again. Our first daffodil flowered in early December. There’s always something to remind us that nature and wildlife go on regardless. This is often all the encouragement we need.” I felt this myself when, virus finally vanquished, I went back to my allotment. I expected weeds, and there were lots. The joyful surprise was the glorious cloud of purple sprouting broccoli. I sobbed. Yes, it was relief at being back out in the world, seeing fellow humans and being well. It was also the wonder that four little seeds sown months before had carried on growing without me and produced what felt like a gift. I even loved the whitefly. There is something we can do to help us notice the rest of the natural world carrying on “regardless”. Almost a decade ago, Professor Miles Richardson developed the “three good things” approach. His aim was to improve our connection with nature. Since then, his research has shown that it also benefits our wellbeing. It’s very simple. All we need to do is note three good things we see in nature each day. This could be through a window or outside on a walk. We can keep our findings to ourselves or, for those who like to share on social media, use the hashtag 3naturethings. They won’t be difficult to find. Just be still enough to notice. Nature to the rescue again. Liz Ware runs silentspace.org.uk

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