The en­abling gar­den

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - Story by Ta­nia Mof­fat, pho­tos pro­vided by the River­wood Con­ser­vancy En­abling Gar­den

Imag­ine for a mo­ment that you couldn’t get to your gar­den, that you were un­able to see the flow­ers, smell the sweet scent of laven­der in the air or put your hands into the cool earth. As gar­den­ers we can read­ily imag­ine how dev­as­tat­ing that would be. Our gar­dens are a refuge, a place to re­lieve our stress, to feel alive, get in touch with na­ture and in tune with the world around us.

Now imag­ine a gar­den where some­one in a wheel­chair is able to plant and weed to their hearts con­tent; a gar­den where women who have suf­fered from phys­i­cal vi­o­lence can see not only the beauty around them but also in them­selves; a gar­den where chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties can see, touch, taste and learn about the nat­u­ral world; a gar­den, where ev­ery­one is wel­come.

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Dou­glas Markoff wanted to cre­ate such a gar­den to en­able peo­ple, what­ever their dis­abil­ity, to find hap­pi­ness, health and well­be­ing in, and he went for it. "I en­cour­aged the City of Mis­sis­sauga to sup­port the idea and they not only gen­er­ously pro­vided the space, but of­fered their help and as­sis­tance in many other ways. Through a very suc­cess­ful fund-rais­ing cam­paign we were able to move forward and cre­ate the River­wood Con­ser­vancy En­abling Gar­den. It is a very dif­fer­ent gar­den. There are no oth­ers like it lo­cated within a pub­lic park, and no other that of­fer the con­stant pro­gram­ming that we do,” Dou­glas says.

The River­wood Con­ser­vancy En­abling Gar­den was con­structed within the MacEwan Ter­race Gar­den on River­wood’s 60-hectare (150-acre) prop­erty of ur­ban wilder­ness along the Credit River. Here, in cen­tral Mis­sis­sauga, his­tory, forests, wet­lands and wildlife abound. The River­wood Con­ser­vancy, a char­ity that pro­vides pro­grams to the com­mu­nity in en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion, gar­den­ing and nat­u­ral ar­eas stew­ard­ship pro­vided an ideal fit for the new gar­den project. MacEwan Ter­race Gar­den, a pub­lic gar­den filled walk­ways and paths sur­rounded by ma­ture trees and a rich collection of plants, is a won­der­ful place for mo­bile clients to con­tin­u­ing ex­plor­ing na­ture. Land­plan

Col­lab­o­ra­tive Ltd, the lead con­sul­tant for the de­sign of MacEwan Ter­race Gar­den, do­nated their time and ex­per­tise to help de­sign the en­abling gar­den’s space.

What is an en­abling gar­den?

“The gar­den has been de­signed for peo­ple with a wide range of needs,” states Jane New, the River­wood Con­ser­vancy En­abling Gar­den co­or­di­na­tor. “It is a hands-on teach­ing gar­den that has been made fully ac­ces­si­ble for in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties.” The gar­den pro­vides a safe and sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment where par­tic­i­pants can take part in ac­tiv­i­ties such as seed start­ing, flower plant­ing, gen­eral gar­den care, har­vest­ing and safe tool use as they nav­i­gate their own path­way to re­cov­ery and re­newal.

Jane has been re­spon­si­ble for the plant de­sign of the gar­den beds, their plant se­lec­tion and for the devel­op­ment of ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams for their clients long be­fore the gar­den opened to the pub­lic. The pro­grams she has devel­oped can be adapted for per­sons of all abil­i­ties in­clud­ing those with: autism, vis­ual and hear­ing im­pair­ments, cog­ni­tive, phys­i­cal and emo­tional chal­lenges, be­reave­ment, ad­dic­tion and de­men­tia, not to men­tion chil­dren of all ages and abil­i­ties.

How it’s done

“Plants are se­lected based on touch, sight, smell and sound in or­der to make the gar­den ac­ces­si­ble for all peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, colour choice is very im­por­tant for those with vi­sion loss. White, yel­low and or­ange are best for cre­at­ing bound­aries as they are eas­ily seen by those with low vi­sion. Pur­ples, blues and greens are harder to dif­fer­en­ti­ate and are there­fore used on trel­lises where bound­aries are clear,” Jane ex­plains.

She in­cor­po­rates both peren­ni­als and an­nu­als in the gar­den, but ad­mits that de­spite their cost, they use a lot of an­nu­als. “An­nu­als are good for learn­ing and we re­ally work them hard,” she says. “Plant­ing is great for mo­tor dex­ter­ity, hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion and phys­i­cal in­volve­ment in the gar­den, so it is im­por­tant to have flow­ers for our clients to plant.” When Jane says they work them hard, they do. Plants will be planted by one group, dug up and planted again by another so that ev­ery­one can take part in this in­ti­mate act with the gar­den. Jane ad­mits that even weeds have been re­planted, only to be ripped out again, for clients to prac­tice work­ing the soil.

An­nu­als also play another im­por­tant role. Un­like peren­ni­als, they pro­vide a con­sis­tent, bril­liant splash of colour all sea­son. This is im­por­tant be­cause some clients only come once, or suf­fer from de­men­tia and don’t re­mem­ber prior vis­its; it is nec­es­sary for the gar­den to be vis­ually im­pact­ful when­ever they come.

Bring­ing na­ture to the peo­ple

For clients un­able to em­bark on a peace­ful stroll on the pub­lic gar­den trails, Jane has brought the sur­round­ing for­est to them. Dwarf larch or ta­ma­rack, ginkgo, cedar and Scott’s pine have been planted for ev­ery­one to en­joy. They pro­vide tac­tile, vis­ual and ol­fac­tory ex­pe­ri­ences.

Even large boul­ders, rocks and fos­sils have been brought up to the gar­den. “If you’re in a wheel­chair, it’s rare to be up close to rocks. But rocks are im­por­tant on so many

lev­els, they are ground­ing and spir­i­tual,” says Jane.

“Many peo­ple ask me why I did not stick to na­tive plant­ings and I use the metaphor of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. We live in a multi-cul­tural com­mu­nity, so on a plant level we can be in­ter­cul­tural too. It is in­ter­est­ing to see how na­tive and nonna­tive species work to­gether. Plants are a great metaphor for life,” Jane ex­plains.


To listen to Dou­glas, Jane and oth­ers in­volved in this project speak about it, is moving. You can’t help but get swept up in the pas­sion they feel and their pride at just be­ing able to be a part of it.

They should be proud, this isn’t just a gar­den, it’s a game changer for peo­ple.

When asked what her proud­est mo­ment has been, Jane tells us, “There are so many proud mo­ments in our gar­den that stand out for me. One, I think is the fact that we are part of a large pub­lic gar­den, the op­tics of that are very im­por­tant.”

She then goes on to ex­plain how one day a woman in the park com­plained to her about all of the con­crete. Jane ex­plained that the woman was lucky, that she could walk and that all of this con­crete al­lowed oth­ers who weren’t as mo­bile to come here as well. The woman’s re­sponse was that she just wished “they” were some­where else.

“That’s why The River­wood Con­ser­vancy En­abling Gar­den is here. It doesn’t mat­ter what your chal­lenges are, we are here, we can sup­port you. Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als have been marginal­ized in so­ci­ety and we are here to give them a voice. The gar­den is their voice, they be­long here. The gar­den teaches them so much in such a gentle way. That’s what I am proud of,” she says pas­sion­ately.

The num­ber of peo­ple tak­ing part in the River­wood Con­ser­vancy En­abling Gar­den’s pro­gram­ing has dou­bled since they opened in 2013. They con­tinue to ex­pand their pro­gram­ming and ad­dress an ever wider range of spe­cial needs. New pro­gram­ming ad­dresses youth at risk, devel­oped in part­ner­ship with a tra­di­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Elder, women who have suf­fered from vi­o­lence and teach­ings by the Elder on Abo­rig­i­nal medicine. They con­tinue to build re­la­tion­ships with the sur­round­ing hos­pi­tals. For more in­for­ma­tion about The River­wood Con­ser­vancy En­abling Gar­den or to make a do­na­tion con­tact Jane New at en­abling­gar­den@theriver­wood­con­ser­

Now, to get an en­abling gar­den in ev­ery city...

Ther­a­peu­tic hor­ti­cul­ture is the use of plants and gar­den­ing re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties to en­hance an in­di­vid­ual’s men­tal, phys­i­cal and emo­tional well-be­ing.

Shal­low pans al­low par­tic­i­pants us­ing wheel­chairs, walk­ers or scoot­ers ac­cess to the bed with­out hav­ing to twist their body.

Even sim­ple items like rocks add to the tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence of the gar­den.

The gar­den’s de­sign, spe­cial tools and sen­sory-stim­u­lat­ing plant com­po­si­tion pro­vide the ben­e­fits of ther­a­peu­tic hor­ti­cul­ture.

For clients un­able to stroll the for­est, minia­tures of the trees have been brought to them.

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