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Soil and Soul: Reclaiming the Garden as Sacred Space Open Access


Other title
gardening as spiritual healing
Horticultural Therapy
Type of item
Degree grantor
St. Stephen's College
Author or creator
Barbara Lynn Ganske
Supervisor and department
Rev. Dr. Nancy Steeves
Examining committee member and department
Dr. Jacob Waschenfelder
Dr. Leslie Gardner
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Theological Studies (Spirituality Specialization)
Degree level
Horticultural therapy, or gardening as therapy, has been used in a wide variety of situations. It is common wisdom that spending time in a garden is good for the soul. Concepts like healing garden, prayer garden, meditation garden, spiritual garden, Zen garden all speak to the experience of well-being that can occur when in that space. However, the spiritual aspects of gardening as therapy have not been widely addressed in the academic literature. This thesis project sought to answer the question: How is the garden experienced as a spiritually healing place? Through a literature search, definitions for spirituality, healing, soul and sacred space were determined. Using the phenomenological methodology of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, which specifies a small, homogeneous sample, the author interviewed four sisters who were life-long gardeners to discover what meaning they gave to their gardens. Eight super-ordinate themes emerged that reflected the participant’s experiences in the garden and the meaning they attributed to those experiences. From these themes, four aspects became apparent relating to the spirituality of the women. They all talked about experiencing the presence of God in their lives, they have a deep connection to the soil, they have never lost their wonder of the created world, and they see God as part of, and manifest in, the natural world. In addition, it became apparent that their mother was very influential in modelling a connection to the garden. The thesis project concluded that, in order to address the spiritual aspects of horticultural therapy, it is important that the leaders of a horticultural therapy program model a passion for gardening, express awe and wonder for the created world, and understand the importance of physical connection to the soil.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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