"Nature has a place for those most damaged by torture" is the headline on a Medical Foundation for care of Victims of Torture leaflet on their 'Natural Growth' gardening project, sub-headed "The healing power of a garden" -- "It is a place where people who have been tortured find moments of peace. it uses the power of nature to bring people back from the brink of mental disintegration. Perhaps the best way to explain is to tell the story of one of the people whom the garden has helped."
The 2007 film 'Growing Your Own' about asylum seekers on a Liverpool allotment site, and the 'Laying Down Roots' TV documentary which sparked it off, also dramatise this theme, of the healing power of nature for recovering from trauma.
From Valentine Low's review in the Evening Standard, 18/5/2007:
"It shows what happens when a group of refugees are given plots on an allotment to help them overcome their trauma, and how they fare when they encounter the entrenched values of the traditional English working-class plot-holders (with an avaricious mobile-phone company to add some spice to proceedings).
In short, Grow Your Own is not a film about gardening. But then gardening isn't really about gardening, either; it's about life. Half the people who are down on their allotment at the weekend, digging their potatoes, planting their Brussels sprouts, are not doing it for the fresh fruit and vegetables they will get at the end of it - they are doing it to escape the drabness of their home lives, to get away from the pressures of their job, or to connect in some atavistic way with the seasons and the earth in a way that we, as city dwellers, have fundamentally forgotten."
And link to Guardian film review: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2007/jun/01/1
In parallel, I'm writing up how the 'cultural ecosystem services' relate to 'value'. Although subjective 'values' are part of monetised economic values -- both attributed and actual market prices -- monetisation is an unsatisfactory and clumsy way of dealing with 'value', as many have argued.
But working with the 'cultural' ecosystem services -- emotional, cognitive and ethical responses to nature -- and with cultural patterns of norms, values and ways of behaving is the basis for what are being called 'participative-deliberative' techniques and approaches -- working with people, involving them in decisions and action planning. PDT approaches aren't a magic wand -- but they give at least a prospect of success rather than certainty that any social or environmental 'solution' will fail if it is designed without the involvement of those who you're relying on to make it work. They are simply the way that people work -- as emotional, ethical, cultural primates with highly developed cognitive curiosity and contrariety.
Once you start thinking about the 'cultural' (emotional, ethical, knowledge) aspect of nature, examples rain all around, daily, hourly.
Does the 'asylum seekers - gardening - psychological healing' example connect with the question of how to prove 'value of nature'. "Perhaps the best way is to tell the story..." says the Medical Foundation, and of course a piccture of a woman gardening accompanies the story. That is the level on which, again and again, in many ways, the 'cultural' meaning and appeal of nature gets used to argue the case, to interpret what really matters -- both for environmental and social values,