Plants of Ritual: Creating a Spiritual Connection to the Designed Landscape

The seminar aims to investigate and catalog plants that have a spiritual/emotional value to the public and to individuals in the designed landscape. The seminar goal is to structure a collection and an archive of plants used during rituals and ceremonies in different cultures and believes. Moving from the four sacred medicines for the Native American people (tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar) to boneset for African-American People or pomegranates and citrons in Jewish traditions to plants that typify the Christian tradition (lilies for the Virgin Mary and thorny vines as an icon of the crucifixion, for example), we’ll unveil a more intimate and ritualistic relationship between human beings and nature in everyday life. This can inform and expand emotional connections between culture and landscape architecture. The seminar is divided into sections, each is focused on the role of these plants during life cycle ceremonies as birth, marriage, death and during the religious and pagan cycle of festivals.

The narrative about each plant will be combined with an illustrated herbarium and focused interviews with representatives of each spiritual community. In this plant exploration, a crucial role is given also to the common name of a plant that often assumes a cultural and ritual meaning instead of a purely botanical one. This type of nomenclature also builds connections between spiritual value and the designed landscape. This collection aims to have an impact in the design fields: in the past, plant palettes were chosen for visual beauty or screening, then more recently, plants also started to be chosen for their ecological value. Through this atlas, we extend the criteria for how plants are chosen by introducing a spiritual connection to designed landscapes.

The goal is to have a more cultural reading of the landscape and to offer opportunities to the different communities to live in an environment that represent the spiritual values of the settled communities, their collective memory and identity, their aspiration, and their needs for the designed landscape to contain more of their emotional approach to plants and the intimate living environment.

This course will meet for the first time in Gund Hall room 124 on Wednesday, September 7th.