Enduring Gardens: Woven by Friends into the Fabric of the Urban Community
Hooykaas, Amanda Leigh
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For the most part, academic literature neglects the psychological impact of public gardens and the landscape on human well-being. Literature about botanical gardening and urban landscape design provide the foundation of contemporary public gardening practices. Largely overlooked, however, is a discussion of the relevance of such gardens to visitors. Public gardens, however, can play an important role in fostering a sense of place in communities, in both historical and contemporary contexts. In this study, the impacts of such gardens are considered through Canadian experiences using perceptual lenses offered by diverse writers whose work can be found in bodies of literature related to history, geography, non-fiction, and poetry. Concepts such as ‘place-making’ which can foster ‘home-making’, for example, are intriguing and worthwhile areas of inquiry in understanding the role of public gardens in the urban landscape. This research explores the importance of ‘home’ in gardens. It also considers the importance of gardens to an individual’s internal (psychological) and external (social) home, particularly for those currently involved as volunteers at public gardens. The concept is related to stewardship and how being a steward of the garden home is key to being a steward of one’s internal home. The animating question here concerns the role that cultivated gardens might play in an individual’s connection to landscape. This topic is explored through an examination of volunteer programs (popularly known as Friends of the Garden programs) using grounded theory to explore the perceptions and perspectives of volunteers who work in three public gardens in Ottawa, Kitchener, and Toronto, Ontario. The subject of gardens and their interrelationship to people lends itself to an interdisciplinary methodological approach encompassing studies in landscape ecology, geography, history, planning, design, and psychology, among others. The qualitative methods approach used in this thesis involves an in-depth examination of secondary literature, as well as field work involving semi-structured interviews, and narrative methods. Further, this research explores the role these gardens play with respect to the unique Canadian sense of place and well-being found within urban public gardens. The findings of the research reveal differing perspectives of volunteers with respect to “sense-making” and the ways in which they engage with each other and with the urban public gardens where they work. In addition, the findings revealed the crucial role played by the volunteer as stewards of the garden. The volunteers see these gardens as sanctuaries and view their own role as serving the greater good of their communities for reasons that go beyond political and economic considerations; they are based on intrinsic sets of values. The research revealed that volunteers frequently possessed strong connections to childhood experiences spent in natural settings with their families. These experiences helped to stimulate a shared belief amongst gardeners that the very act of gardening is itself a valued and valuable “way of life”. Furthermore, volunteers are often retired and older; as such, they volunteer in the gardens as a way to contribute to the world to make it more beautiful and meaningful for others and to pass those gardens down to future generations. Gardens are seen as ways to re-create home from one’s childhood past; volunteers often link their present experience in the garden with a sense of connection and belonging in similar terms used to describe their home (as a country, a house, or a valued place). These findings demonstrate that there is a strong sense of place that is both acquired and fostered through engagement with urban public gardens. The findings also raise the possibility that public gardens play an important role in fostering sense of place in visitors. This, in turn, can contribute to a sense of home or belonging, and stewardship of communities and natural surroundings. This research contributes to an understanding of the role that public gardens play as valuable places that make important contributions to social and ecological well-being.