Horticultural modernisms
: Reading the modernist garden

  • Jasmine McCrory

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores gardens and horticulture in modernist writing. Dominant critical paradigms have read the modernist garden as a product of writers’ ecological concern and desire to establish a more profound and benign relationship with the natural world. However, such anachronistic, retrospective ecocritical frameworks have denied the material and historicised complexity of the garden in its own insulated moment of modernity; the materiality of the garden was used by modernist writers to interrogate and critique their intellectual landscapes (including, but not limited to, phenomenology, psychology, theology, thanatology, materialism, and literary criticism), and thus the modernist garden becomes a metaphorical construct through which the anxieties of modernity are expressed. Therefore, this thesis develops a methodology that explores both the functional (the modernists as gardeners) and metaphorical (the modernists as writers of gardens) value of the modernist garden in relation to its historical context: ‘horticultural historicism’.

This thesis has selected writers whose gardens are yet to receive sustained critical attention: Wallace Stevens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Amy Lowell, and Djuna Barnes. These writers’ oeuvres are fecund with horticultural imagery that sprouted from a passion for gardening that each of these writers, in differing capacities, shared. In their passions, these roaming and voracious minds inevitably encountered horticultures that were modern, experimental, or unfamiliar, including: advances in scientific understandings of biological processes such as composting and photosynthesis; hospital gardens established during radical reassessments of health and social care; transnational and trans-philosophical gardens including Zen Buddhist gardens; and modern horticultural ‘vogues’ like tropical plant collecting and domestic mushroom cultivation. Each of these horticultural innovations were presented by Stevens, Fitzgerald, Lowell, and Barnes respectively as a symbol of modernity, and each writer used these figures as a vehicle of expression for their own intellectual concerns: Stevens on the nature of the sublime and the relationship between reality and the imagination; Fitzgerald on psychoanalysis and modern patient/psychiatrist relationships; Lowell on the opposition between capitalism and spiritual wealth; and Barnes on the relationship between history, decadence, the body, and death.

Thesis is embargoed until 31 December 2024.
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsAHRC Northern Bridge DTP
SupervisorAlex Murray (Supervisor) & Philip McGowan (Supervisor)

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