The wellbeing garden: examining sensory experiences to inform garden design

This PhD will examine how horticultural design elements and cultivated plants influence sensory experiences, affective responses and wellbeing in gardens.

Start date
1 September 2021
3 years
Application deadline
Funding source
The University of Surrey (UniS) and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)
Funding information
  • Full UK/EU tuition fee covered
  • Stipend at £15,285 p.a. (2020/21)
  • RTSG of £2,000 p.a.
  • Lap top


A walk through a beautiful garden is likely to help most people feel more relaxed, and the smells, sounds and colours of the planting will influence this experience. Growing evidence demonstrates that exposure to natural environments can benefit mental and physical health and wellbeing. However, the role of different environmental features, cultivated plants and sensory experiences is rarely studied. This PhD will examine how design elements and cultivated plants influence sensory experiences, affective responses and wellbeing in gardens.

This PhD student will carry out a series of field (at RHS Wisley) and laboratory (at the University of Surrey) studies, working closely with experts at RHS Wisley. This will include studies with RHS Wisley visitors including a study where participants will be asked to record how they feel (affect and wellbeing) at specific timepoints during a walk through RHS Wisley and to record their environment (eg., take a picture) in order to create an emotion/wellbeing map of the garden. A second study would randomly allocated visitors to different “rooms” of the wellbeing garden at Wisley (designed by Matt Keightley) to assess their emotional responses. Additional studies will be planned with the student but will be likely to include field and/or lab experimental studies that aim to isolate specific garden features and sensory experiences identified in the earlier studies to further examine how exposure to these features affects health and wellbeing.

The project will be supervised by Dr Birgitta Gatersleben, Dr Ellie Ratcliffe and Prof Alistair Griffiths. Birgitta Gatersleben is a Reader in environmental psychology and has been working at Surrey for 20 years. Her work focuses on sustainable behaviour and understanding the health benefits of engagement with natural environments. Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe is Lecturer in Environmental Psychology. Her research focuses on environmental design and health, with a specific focus on soundscapes. Prof Alistair Griffiths is director of science and collections at the Royal Horticultural Society. One of his key interests is the link between gardening, health and wellbeing.

Related links
Environmental psychology research group RHS Garden Wisley

The project requires regular travel between the University of Surrey and RHS Wisley. Access to a car is highly recommended.

Eligibility criteria

Applicants are expected to hold a minimum of an upper second-class honours degree (65 per cent or above) in psychology (or a related discipline) and a master’s degree in a relevant subject with a pass of 65 per cent or above.

This studentship is available for UK and EU students.

IELTS requirements: IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6 in each individual category.

How to apply

To apply for this studentship:

  1. Firstly apply for the Psychology PhD programme, October 2021 entry.  
  2. During your application, please mention your desire to apply for the project ‘The wellbeing garden: examining sensory experiences to inform garden design”.  

When the system asks you to add your ‘Research Project’ please copy and paste the description of this project.

Application deadline

Contact details

Birgitta Gatersleben
08 AC 05
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 689306

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