Planting a tree is an investment in the future, an act of hope. It also recognizes trees’ enormous impacts, not only on the natural environment and on ecosystems but on wellbeing. Of all features of the natural world, trees have maybe the most widely proven impact on our wellbeing: easing fear, anxiety and depression, connecting us to our environment and even quickening recovery from surgery. National Tree Week, which this year runs from 28 November to 6 December, is an opportunity to explore the nature of that impact.
While I might think of a tree’s main impact as visual, we do experience trees on different levels across all five senses, which is known to be important for wellbeing. Trees add sound to a landscape as they rustle, sigh or whisper in the wind. They might have a distinctive scent, as lime trees can do. Different species of trees’ bark and leaves feel different to the touch, and some trees have edible fruits (although only eat where they are known to be edible). A sensory nature experience like this on different levels is more likely to boost wellbeing and mood and to create stimulus. It enables people with sight or hearing loss or other, multiple disabilities to connect with nature in other ways. Multi-sensory experience of the natural world is also known to help young people with SEN (special educational needs), creating stimuli and a feeling of space and freedom.
Trees represent stability, which many people find reassuring in an unsettled world. When life is turned on its head, trees represent durability and continuity, so that people may invest trees they know with significance and hope. High levels of opposition to tree felling in many places demonstrates just how involved people come to feel with local landscapes, as also the large-scale campaign which forced the UK Government to reconsider its plan to sell off the country’s woods and forests a few years ago. Maybe because trees seem so solid, rooted and grounded, a threat to their future strikes us all the more as a threat to our own.
National Tree Week began in 1975, at a time when many elm trees were threatened by disease. It has run every year since then, and obviously will be different this year, with far fewer of the tree-planting events which would usually be held. But The Tree Council will hold other events online, and it’s great that these will highlight how trees inspire art, music and creativity. It is this kind of focus on nature and the arts working together that is particularly important to Medley.
One example I’ve recently come across is Stephen Taylor’s book “Oak”, which reproduces 50 paintings he worked on over three years following bereavements and a difficult time in his life. Stephen focused on painting one particular scene multiple times, sometimes just the oak tree itself in close up, sometimes depicting the wider setting as well. In diverse styles, the paintings look at colour, light, growth patterns, bird life around the tree and pollarded branches. His paintings embody the restorative power of creativity in response to nature.
Not only do trees inspire creativity, they provide some of its raw materials. Much art equipment is made from wood (like easels, brush handles and charcoal), and so are many musical instruments, from violins and acoustic guitars to recorders.
Do you find trees boost your mood, calm you or improve your wellbeing in other ways? Why do you think trees have a particular part to play in nature’s impact on wellbeing? Could it be that their longevity and annual cycle of growth embody renewal and new life? It would be great if you could share any response you might have on Medley’s new Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002