Back in 2019 the Book of Beasties team visited Tom Hart Dyke, an infectiously happy and wildly passionate horticulturist, at his home in Lullingstone Castle, Kent. Where he showed us around his incredible world garden, home to plants from all over the world. An idea he came up with after being kidnapped whilst in Columbia. Here he tells us how he used this idea to get him through the nine month ordeal and how his love of nature as a whole helps with his wellbeing.
To mark the release of the new remastered Nature Nurture PSHE learning kit here is Tom's brilliant written piece about wellbeing and nature.
I’m a passionate plantsman who ever since ‘germination’ has been nurtured by my massively influential granny. When she gave me a packet of carrot seeds and trowel at the age of three I developed my green blood cells! I’ve never looked back! My grandmother was my best friend, both bonded by a shared passion for the world of plants.
I have travelled the globe searching out rare botanical beauties and despite 9 months captivity as a hostage during the millennium year whilst on an orchid hunt in Panama and Colombia haven’t been put off further travels to far flung climes and still have a crystal clear mission in life: creating and further developing the World Garden which has a worldwide reputation of botanical excellence and will ultimately keep my home at Lullingstone Castle financially afloat.
The Book of Beasties is a gloriously important educational tool to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing, and combines superbly with the wondrous world of plants to form a formidable force to induce therapeutic calmness and soothing tranquillity.
Gosh it was dank, so very dank and so very humid. I’ll never forget June 16 th 2000, just gone Midday. Scarface the Teenager (huge suppurating scar across his face) stepped inside my disgustingly sweaty palm leaved abode and threatened me! The split second he turned his back to walk away, with zero hesitation, I opened my diary to its centre pages and began scribbling my dream botanical pleasure.
The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle was born! This garden is laid out as a miniature map of the world, with thousands of plant species phytogeographically in their mini countries of origin. It celebrates the wonderful endeavours of Plant Hunters, who risked life and limb, bringing back botanical delights to Great Britain. This garden literally saved my life whilst living life as a hostage in the fetid Central American jungle. During my months in captivity my botanical designs gathered pace, acting as a wonderful distraction from the dreaded thoughts of a horrible torture and inevitable death.
I could lose myself in my fantasy garden and forget the seriousness of my situation. It kept me mentally strong from the emotional rollercoaster surrounding me thanks to very unpredictable gang members! In the end I literally bored my captors to death by waxing lyrical about my World Garden that I had created on paper and in my energised chlorophyll filled brain cells! They couldn’t deal with me bantering about plants any longer and eventually released me after 9 months in captivity! Every gardener knows that being involved with Mother Nature is such a therapeutic stress reliever and highly rewarding.
But in my case with developing the World Garden – it’s beyond therapy. Without my horrendous jungle ordeal the World Garden wouldn’t exist. Something so unbelievably positive emerged from the jungle. It has encapsulated my passion and enthusiasm for plants whilst carving out a botanical career. It has blessed me with a focus, made sure that I take nothing for granted, not worrying about the ‘missed that last bus for work analogy’, and above all has taught me to live each day.
Certain elements of gardening that I utilise to release a buzz of numbing wellbeing:
1 Wonderful work and exuberant exercise.
Just lifting a spade and sliding it into the soil, planting or weeding, building up a serious sweat, releases huge amounts of stress, you forget time and are transported into a world where human be- ings aren’t too busy to chat and in such a rush – please leave your mobile indoors and disconnect! Gardening is super exercise and endorses a huge sense of purpose, fulfilment and wellness.
2 Gorgeous Germination:
Observing recently sown seedlings pushing up the compost in springtime is an overwhelming pleasure. A shot of horticultural adrenaline surges though. It’s great to be alive!
3 The Fabulous Flower:
Scintillate you nasal hairs by inhaling a sweet smelling flower. One deep inhalation of the overpoweringly delicious perfume of an Asiatic Lily for example will dissolve negative thoughts, soothe over a stressed, frantically pumping heart and transport your ecstatic body and soul to a flower filled land crammed full of calming properties and thoughts. The hands of time will grind to a halt during this spellbinding inhalation. Every worry will dissolve.
4 Brilliant Breeze:
Just stop. Turn your mobile off. Sit down in the garden, on a rock, the ground or bench and observe the breeze waft through pendulous Eucalyptus leaves, instigate bamboo leaves to rustle. Close your eyes don’t cover your face and let it freshen your facial senses. If it’s raining, looks to the skies and let the moisture splash you. It’s invigorating. A botanical opera is performing around you. Soak it up. Just stop and observe. You’re so close to Mother Nature.
5 Sumptuous Soil:
Whilst mixing compost I deliberately encourage my fingers to open and sieve soil through them. Any large pieces of soil are crushed to the right size, such therapy. When mixing compost I treat the compost, sand and grit like cooking ingredients – pretending to make a ‘Michelin Star’ meal – well I am – for the plants! Don’t be afraid to have a good old sniff of the compost but don’t inhale!!
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work at Lullingstone is showing school groups around. It’s such a buzz, imparting plant filled knowledge – dressed in an enthusiastic, passionate and fun delivery. Seeing youngsters crushing, then smelling an oil rich eucalyptus leaf and hearing them shout out koala bears, Vicks Vaporub and throat sweets to some of my questions.
Showing them the quickest growing plant on the planet; the versatile bamboo and which famous black and white creature exclusively munches on this plant?? Panda!! is deafeningly bellowed out!! Getting them to touch ancient Horsetails that, dinosaurs ate always goes down a treat.
Watching their fully engaged yet horrified faces as I open up the meaty coloured glossy leaf of a carnivorous pitcher plant to reveal dozens of decomposing entomological bodies:
the oozing body fluids have an eye watering pungent smell. Or checking the bottom of their shoes as they stroll past the horrendous smell of the dog pooh plant from the Kalahari Desert! It’s just so realistic! They love it!
But most excitement is generated when I tell them we have the UK’s only example of the ‘world’s most dangerous plant’ – ‘The Queensland Stinger’ – and if touched it can inflict 9 months of the most burning debilitating reoccurring throbbing pain. What a great defence mechanism!! They never forget their visit to the World Garden if you show them some bizarre plant species and perhaps I’ll inspire them, like my wonderful Granny inspired me at the age of 3 with a packet of carrot seeds and a trowel and heaps of enthusiasm. No one forgets their visit if someone has strolled into a “prickly pear” Cactus.
And you spend the morning having to extract the sharp spines from various limbs with a pair of tweezers! This happens a lot! But I guess the most joyous buzz I get from a school visit is days later when you receive in the post a huge brown envelope, stuffed full with a serious wodge of superbly illustrated, and delightfully written scribbles from their memories of the excursion to Lullingstone Castle and The World Garden. It brings a tear to my eye.
Phase one of the new Nature Nurture PSHE Learning Kit will be released on the Great Ormond Street and Wellness Super Hero tier on Thursday 14th January.