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Sitdown Sunday: The therapeutic power of gardening

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

Image: Shutterstock/IgorAleks

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. The therapeutic power of gardening

In this gorgeous piece, Rebecca Mead meets Sue Stuart-Smith, a psychiatrist who has written about gardening can help our mental health. 

(The New Yorker, approx 20 mins reading time)

Her book describes a middle-aged patient, Kay, whom she was treating for depression. As a child, Kay had experienced neglect and violence; as an adult, she often had conflicts with her two adolescent sons, whom she raised alone, in a flat with a small garden that the boys had destroyed with their antics. When her sons moved out, Kay reclaimed the garden. One day in therapy, she made a striking observation: “It is the only time I feel I am good.” Stuart-Smith explains that feeling one is good—rather than merely feeling good—is an example of gardening’s reparative power. Gardening provided Kay a refuge and an engagement with the world beyond herself; it also gave her confirmation of her capacity to provide care and tenderness, in a less fraught context than that of her family relationships.

2. Warnings about their killer were missed

The tragic backstory behind the murder of two young women, Heni and Jan, whose killer had come to police attention multiple times. 

(BBC, approx 17 mins reading time)

Staff heard her declaring love for “Zahid” during phone calls, and she made day trips back to the capital to see him. On two occasions, she returned so late that staff reported her missing. The charity was told that her boyfriend – who was said to be talking about marriage – would let her move in with him, but that he did not want to give his address to the police or any other agency. When she left a few weeks later, having insisted to staff at the refuge that her boyfriend did not have abusive personality traits, her destination – Younis’s flat in Canning Town – was therefore unknown to them

3. What does everyone see in Jesse Plemons?

The film I’m Thinking Of Ending Things hit Netflix this month, and one of its stars is Jesse Plemons – an actor whose career just keeps getting better and better. Here’s a profile of him.

(The New York Times, approx 10 mins reading time)

That verisimilitude has found him fans in major directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, and the 32-year-old Plemons has recently become a mainstay of prestige dramas, appearing in best picture nominees four of the last five years. Utter naturalism is his goal: Plemons can toggle easily between eggheads and dimwits, good guys and bad guys, and it’s almost impossible to describe what he’s doing differently because he doesn’t appear to be doing anything at all.

4. I have weeks to live – here’s what I want to pass on

Elliot Dallen sadly passed away this week. Here, he writes about his lessons from life, which he reflected on during lockdown.

(The Guardian, approx 10 mins reading time)

During my worst moments – the shock of cancer diagnosis, the mental lows and debilitating symptoms of chemotherapy – it was difficult to picture any future moments of joy, closeness or love. Even so, at those times I found comfort in remembering what I have: an amazing family, the friends I’ve made and times I’ve shared with them, the privilege of the life I’ve had.

5. America is trapped in a pandemic spiral

The coronavirus situation in the US is not great – here’s a look at what’s going on. 

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(The Atlantic, approx 23 mins reading time)

Many Americans trusted intuition to help guide them through this disaster. They grabbed onto whatever solution was most prominent in the moment, and bounced from one (often false) hope to the next. They saw the actions that individual people were taking, and blamed and shamed their neighbors. They lapsed into magical thinking, and believed that the world would return to normal within months. Following these impulses was simpler than navigating a web of solutions, staring down broken systems, and accepting that the pandemic would rage for at least a year.

6. How to stop our emotions misleading us

We can be in danger of ignoring facts we don’t like. Here’s how not to do that.

(The Guardian, approx 16 mins reading time)

We don’t need to become emotionless processors of numerical information – just noticing our emotions and taking them into account may often be enough to improve our judgment. Rather than requiring superhuman control of our emotions, we need simply to develop good habits. Ask yourself: how does this information make me feel? Do I feel vindicated or smug? Anxious, angry or afraid? Am I in denial, scrambling to find a reason to dismiss the claim?


Beautiful human or fugitive killer? Debbie Carliner opened a newspaper in January 1975 and spotted a woman who she recognised – Joan davis, a former family employee. What was she doing in an article about a fugitive?

(Narratively, approx 24 mins reading time)

That’s when the story went from shocking to surreal. In November 1962, Jannie had walked off the hospital grounds and vanished for more than 12 years. After she was finally arrested again, on January 2, 1975, the story that emerged was as straightforward as it was unbelievable: She seemed to have simply melted into the streets of Washington, mere miles from the hospital, taken on a new name, and plunged into a new life. 

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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