Gardening across the life course
: A qualitative study of the meaning of everyday gardening and its links with well-being

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


There is a mass of common lore about the reasons people garden and the benefits they derive from gardening but little academic study into the topic. The literature has tended to take a snapshot look at gardening with little consideration of the patterning to people‟s experience across their lives. This study takes a life course perspective and investigates ways in which people‟s relationship to their garden, and the meanings they ascribe to gardening, vary at different ages and stages. It considers the links between these meanings and the well-being of the gardeners. The study is qualitative and draws on interviews with 25 gardeners in the UK, aged between 25 and 94 years. A small sample of autobiographical garden writing is also used as a data source. The study is influenced by phenomenological, biographical, narrative, and grounded theory approaches. Thematic analysis builds on narrative methods and on case by case comparison. The analysis indicates that most of the meanings associated with gardening emerged in childhood and include „escape‟, „fun and pleasure‟, „aesthetic appreciation‟, „care and responsibility‟, „control‟, and „connections‟. Across the life course these meanings continue to be available to gardeners but are brought to the fore at different times and under influences which may lie within the individual or in broader social or historical forces. Life events were experienced as times for greater urgency to garden, and provide a lens through which the „goods‟ of gardening can be brought into stark relief. At such times gardening is seen to support identity maintenance and offers strategies and resources for coping with major life changes. It is argued that gardening, because it evokes meanings which encompass emotional, psychological, social, spiritual and physical elements, is particularly well placed to support people at such times.
Date of AwardOct 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlan Cribb (Supervisor)

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