Top Navigation

Justine Tay

Class of: 
Research Project: 
Public Garden Design: Perspectives from the Field


A resident of Singapore, Justine graduated from Cornell with a BS in Plant Sciences in 2010 before making her transition directly into this program. She is studying on a scholarship from the National Parks Board of Singapore, and will return to work for the agency after graduating from this program in May. The focus of her thesis is on public garden design and how important public gardens deem various design issues to be.

The physical design of a public garden is key to communicating its mission and to determining its aesthetic appeal, functionality for staff and visitors, and likely path of evolution over time. The objective of this study was to gather current perspectives from the field on public garden design issues, and to distill a set of guidelines that would be relevant to North American public gardens across the board. The study focused primarily on design issues concerning visitor interests and needs, since the ability of gardens to draw visitors is what truly makes a public garden “public.” Design guidelines were sifted from various sources including articles, websites, and master plans, and organized into six primary categories: plant collections/landscaping, amenities/garden features, parking, circulation, signage, and general principles of design. Four hundred and twenty-two public gardens were surveyed and asked to rate these guidelines in terms of how important they were for public gardens in general. One hundred and twenty-one gardens responded, the majority of which were small and either private not-for-profit or university-affiliated. The mean rating for each design guideline was determined, and the data analyzed according to garden budget size and governance type to see if those factors affected the responses from different gardens. The results revealed that aesthetics, sustainability, and the provision of quiet spots and basic amenities (restrooms, drinking fountains, seats etc.) were the most important design considerations for public gardens. The least popular design guidelines included the provision of food-related facilities (vending machines, cafe's, etc.) and the arrangement of plant collections according to taxonomic classifications. Although broad design recommendations were identified based on the findings from this study as well as on literature research, it should be noted that the relevance of these design guidelines ultimately depend on the individual garden and its specific mission, philosophy, and circumstances.