University of Nottingham

Writing the landscape of everyday life: lay narratives of the home garden

Project outline

Britain is often portrayed as 'a nation of gardeners'; in both rural and urban areas, gardens attached to dwellings are a significant, everyday element in a range of landscapes. Shaped by a vast array of professional narratives on gardens and gardening, including novels, TV shows and how-to books, these domestic spaces are part of social and cultural landscapes. Very little however, is known about meanings of the garden from the perspective of 'ordinary' people and how this changes over the life course. This project sought to gather, analyse and present lay narratives on domestic gardens and gardening from the Mass Observation Archive (MOA) at the University of Sussex.


Findings have developed new ideas and knowledge concerning the role of the garden in the 'enchantment' of modern life, the importance of the act of 'occupation' in understanding the garden as an everyday landscape, and work to re-position the garden as an 'ordinary' or vernacular landscape in Britain.

In addition to the analysis of material submitted for the 'Gardens and Gardening' Directive, fourteen respondents were identified as 'telling' cases and their writings were analysed in depth across a range of different directives to interrogate their life stories further, following themes of the home, family, garden practices and memories.

In June 2007 'Imagining the Garden' - an exhibition of photos and graphic material from the MOA, was held at the central public library in Brighton, the Jubilee Library. The exhibition was jointly curated by the project research fellow and a Brighton-based photographer, Beatrice Haverich. An audience of around 2000 people attended the event over five days. The exhibition was linked to the 'Ordinary lives, everyday stories' event that contributed to the 70th anniversary celebrations of the MOA's operation.

Results have been presented at a range of academic, professional garden design and writing events. The project team organised and convened a session on 'Elemental matter: gardens and the geographies of horticulture' at the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers annual conference in 2008, and facilitated a writing workshop at the University of Exeter in 2007 as part of the AHRC Landscape and Environment network 'Understanding landscape through creative autoethnography'.


Ongoing influence

The project has revealed that through in-depth longitudinal analysis, the MOA can be used to go beyond analysing responses to particular events and directives to understand emotions, memory and experience over the life course, paving the way for future projects.

Data grounded theory concerning the relationship between gardening and subjective wellbeing from this project fed into a successful application for an ESRC award in the 'New dynamics of ageing' Programme entitiled 'Psychometric testing of the multidimensional older people's quality of life'. Three Arts and Humanities Research Council grants also followed on directly from the landscape and environment programme grant:

  • The difference creativity makes, Connected Communities Showcase Event. 2013.
  • Community gardening, creativity and everyday culture: food growing and embedded researchers in community transformation and connections. 2012-13.
  • Connecting health, health-behaviours and place through the work of community gardening. 2010-11.

Andrew Church's work on cultural ecosystem services as part of the National Ecosystem Assessment for the UK was also informed by the project's work on gardens and was even more central to the £128,000 grant from DEFRA, AHRC, ESRC, NERC for the National Ecosystem Assessment Follow On Work Package 4 - Cultural Ecosystem Services and human well-being, which explored the well-being benefits of domestic gardens using a major National data base the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment.

Award details

Duration: November 2006 - October 2007 (12 months)

Principal Investigator:
Professor Andrew Church

Higher Education Institution:
School of Environment and Technology, University of Brighton

Selected publications

Bhatti, M., Church, A. and Claremont, A. (2013) Peaceful, pleasant and private: the British domestic garden as an ordinary landscape, Landscape Research. 1-13

Church, A., Ravenscroft, N. and Gilchrist, P (2013) Property ownership, resource use and the gift of nature, Environment and Planning D. 31 (3), 451-466

Stenner, P., Church, A. and Bhatti, M. (2012) Human-landscape relations and the occupation of space: Experiencing and expressing domestic gardens, Environment and Planning A, 44 (7) 1712 – 1727

Claremont, A., Church, A., Bhatti, M. and Stenner, P. (2010). Going public: landscaping everyday life. Cultural Geographies. 17(2):277-282.

Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071