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Therapeutic garden design principles in action

by Timber Press on June 30, 2015

in Design

Therapeutic gardens designed with the four principles in mind offer a wide range of therapeutic value for users.

Therapeutic gardens designed with the four principles in mind offer a wide range of therapeutic value for users.

“Gardens can and do restore our state of health,” write Therapeutic Gardens authors Daniel Winterbottom and Amy Wagenfeld. A close look at one school for children with special needs shows us how.

Therapeutic garden design principles

  1. Sense of control (actual and perceived). The garden allows individuals to make choices. It provides a temporary escape, a sensation of “being away,” an opportunity for the user to gain control of his or her emotions and refocus attention.
  2. Sense of belonging and connection. The garden has familiarity and fosters a sense of attachment and place. It has a variety of enclosed and public spaces for private and open exchanges.
  3. Movement and exercise. The garden supports low-impact activities, including walking, wheeled mobility, gardening, play, formal exercise, and physical rehabilitation. These activities build strength, reduce stress, and elevate mood.
  4. Sensory nourishment. The garden offers heightened interactions with nature through the senses. Natural distractions improve emotional states, diminish troublesome thoughts, and foster positive physiological outcomes.

A rendering of the Carter School Sensory Garden. Image: David Berarducci Landscape Architecture

A rendering of the Carter School Sensory Garden. Image: David Berarducci Landscape Architecture

William E. Carter School

Boston’s William E. Carter School is a public school for children (up to age seven years 11 months) with profound developmental delays. Its 0.4-acre sensory garden was designed by David Berarducci Landscape Architecture (based on a conceptual design by Martha Tyson and in close collaboration with Carter School parents and staff) as an oasis for learning and exploration that specifically meets the needs of students. All surfaces are level and easily navigable, and children, all of whom are either in wheelchairs or require assistance with ambulation, can access the garden directly from their classrooms via electronic doors. Once in the garden they follow a wide figure-8 path with color contrast edging. Tall ornamental grasses line a curving secondary path; as students journey along it, they can feel the leaves and feathery flowering stalks touch their hands and faces. Side paths lead to a swing area with large molded seats with safety belts and a wheelchair platform. Graceful magnolia and weeping cherry trees provide shade and visual interest; flowering vines cover three pergolas, under which are tables. These and other quiet areas off the main path are ideal spots to relax and eat, observe the activities in the garden, or work with a teacher or therapist.

Level paths with color contrast edging for students with visual challenges lead to a series of destinations in the garden. Image: Karen Jacobs

Level paths with color contrast edging for students with visual challenges lead to a series of destinations in the garden. Image: Karen Jacobs

Scent is primary and intensely evocative. Image: Karen Jacobs

Scent is primary and intensely evocative. Image: Karen Jacobs

Wheelchair-height switches that students can activate with their hands, arms, or elbows control various water features; these are an ongoing source of delight and wonder for the children, especially on warm days when, for example, a soothing mist wafts off a pergola’s roof. Wheelchairs can easily roll up to and under an elevated planter that allows students to work together to plant, weed, and harvest produce.

Ornamental grasses are both visually and texturally appealing. Railings dot this path, making it an ideal place to practice ambulation skills. Image: Karen Jacobs

Ornamental grasses are both visually and texturally appealing. Railings dot this path, making it an ideal place to practice ambulation skills. Image: Karen Jacobs

Angled to provide easy wheelchair accessibility, each sorting bin holds a sensory element for children to explore. Something as simple as an ornamental gourd provides several tactile experiences: smooth, rough, cool, bumpy, and dry. Image: Karen Jacobs

Angled to provide easy wheelchair accessibility, each sorting bin holds a sensory element for children to explore. Something as simple as an ornamental gourd provides several tactile experiences: smooth, rough, cool, bumpy, and dry. Image: Karen Jacobs

Wheelchair-accessible bins that can be filled with items such as sand, water, and other tactile objects are used for sensory play and therapy. Aromatic herbs are massed together and invite being touched and sniffed by children who are passing by. A central focal point is a large silver ball, which spins and provides children who sit upon it with a panoramic view of the garden. At the Carter School, education and therapy have moved from the classroom into a place of beauty, tranquility, and sensory enrichment.

A wheelchair-height touch switch operates the water feature in this quiet circular nook. Image: Jeffrey Hsi

A wheelchair-height touch switch operates the water feature in this quiet circular nook. Image: Jeffrey Hsi

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DanielWinterbottom__SMDaniel Winterbottom, RLA, FASLA, is professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington and earned his MLA from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Daniel’s research is in landscape as a cultural expression, ecological urban design, and restorative/healing landscapes in the built environment. His firm, Winterbottom Design Inc., focuses on designing healing/restorative gardens.

 

 

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AmyWagenfeld_1_SMAmy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, CAPS, an occupational therapist, educator, researcher, and master gardener, brings a unique perspective to her work by blending occupational therapy, horticulture, and design to make gardens and gardening possible for a wide range of adults and children. She is on the faculty in the department of occupational therapy at Rush University and has a landscape design consultation practice.

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Click image for a look inside this book.

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An innovative approach to designing meaningful and successful landscapes for those in the greatest need.

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