Date of Award

January 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Medical Doctor (MD)



First Advisor

Naomi Rogers


Throughout history, nature has played a central part in healing. Gardens and garden-like spaces have been juxtaposed again and again with institutions where healing occurred, and often performed a variety of functions for patients, practitioners, and communities. Despite the constant presence of gardens of various forms in the healthcare setting and the many functions these gardens performed, the absence of clear empiric evidence to support their use led them to fall out of favor in the twentieth century, especially with the decline of asylums and sanatoria, urbanization, and the rise of a medical model focused on technology and efficiency. Work in the last three decades to systematize the benefits of nature and hospital gardens, as well as shifts in attitudes towards nature, have led to the rise of “healing gardens,” whose main purpose is therapeutic. This essay attempts to understand trends in attitudes towards and functions of hospital gardens. It examines gardens associated with healing in the classical world, the medieval period, and the last two centuries. It engages with the work of medical historians, medical professionals, patients, and landscape architects. This leads to several conclusions: First, gardens associated with healing historically performed a tremendous number of functions. Second, the modern “healing garden,” with its therapeutic focus, was a response to the growth of evidence of the therapeutic benefits of nature. As gardens needed to prove therapeutic efficacy to survive in the modern hospital, evaluation tools and research methods have grown around them. Third, despite their focus on therapeutic benefits, modern healing gardens continue to perform a variety of functions that are difficult to measure and study, but that are important to the individuals and groups that use them.


This thesis is restricted to Yale network users only. This thesis is permanently embargoed from public release.