Special Needs Gardening: Creating A Special Needs Garden For Children
Gardeners with special needs are often faced with many challenges when it comes to gardening. They have difficulty learning how to care for their own plants and need extra help from others to do so. If they don’t get enough sunlight or water, they may die.
Sometimes they just want something simple like a flower bed without any decorations around it.
What follows is a brief description of gardening with children with special needs.
How To Choose A Garden With Special Needs?
First things first, you must decide what kind of garden you would like to create. There are two main types: sensory gardens and non-sensory gardens. Sensory gardens include flowers, shrubs, trees and other plants that provide visual stimulation such as colorful rocks or hanging baskets filled with tiny pebbles. Non-sensory gardens include herbs, perennials, succulents and other plants that provide other kinds of stimulation such as fragrant scented oils or soft textures.
Sensory Gardens: Flowers, Shrubs And Plants That Provide Visual Stimulation
Flowers are the most common type of plant included in sensory gardens. They are easy to grow and require little attention from anyone except the gardener herself. They can range anywhere from the simple and common to the exotic and rare.
All that matters is that it’s a plant that someone finds pretty to look at or that gives off a pleasant aroma when they smell it.
Shrubs are somewhat similar but tend to offer more privacy, depending on the type of shrub of course. Fences and hedges are typically made up of shrubs while most other plants are usually just left alone to bloom and provide a nice back drop.
Trees on the other hand tend to be more for shade and less for looks. If you’re creating a garden for children however, they could easily provide both. There are hundreds of different types of trees to choose from so you have plenty of options to play around with.
Non-Sensory Gardens: Herbs, Perennials, Succulents And Other Plants That Provide Other Kinds Of Stimulation
Herbs are plants that typically contain a strong scent or provide some sort of food flavoring. Sage, Rosemary and Thyme are all herbs commonly used in cooking. Lavender is often used for aromatherapy.
A lot of these plants tend to have nice fragrant flowers and are fun to look at.
Perennials are plants that tend to last for more than two years and tend to grow back every year. Some examples include the common daisy or the uncommon but still widely recognized poppies.
Succulents are plants that are typically found in the desert. They store water inside their stems, leaves or roots and can go for long periods of time without any water at all. While they do tend to look a bit plain, some of them have interesting shapes and colors.
Once you’ve decided what kind of garden you want to make, it’s time to start gathering your supplies. Make sure to buy way more than you need because you never know when a certain plant might not take in your climate.
Gardening For Children With Special Needs: The Actual Process
Once you’ve gathered all your supplies, it’s time to get dirty and start planting! If you’re making a sensory garden, you’ll want to start off by digging a hole for every tree, shrub or flower you have and make sure the ground is nice and soft before placing it inside. For trees, dig a hole twice as wide and just as deep.
Once you’ve finished digging, place your plants inside and pat the dirt around it to secure it in place. Water each plant and make sure they’re firmly in the ground. If you’re making a sensory garden for children, this is the time where you’d want to ask them which plants they like the look of the most and where they want them to go in the garden.
Once you’ve finished planting your garden, it’s time to move onto the non-sensory gardens (if you chose to make one of those). This part is relatively the same except for a few differences. Herbs can be placed in pots rather than planted in the ground.
They’re typically smaller than trees and other plants so they’re easy to place. Perennials typically come in smaller pots as well so they’re easy to handle. Succulents also come in small pots and typically don’t need as much water as the other plants.
Once you’ve finished planting your garden, it’s time to move onto step three: Maintenance.
Gardening For Children With Special Needs: Maintenance
After you’ve finished your garden, you’ll still need to take care of it on a daily basis if you want it to survive.
Herbs: These plants typically need to be watered every couple of days if it’s a hot day. Give them a good drink of water, but not too much or they’ll start to rot. These plants typically grow very quickly so you may need to prune them back every now and then to give them the shape you want.
It’s best to keep these plants in pots due to how fast they grow.
Perennials: These plants typically grow very slowly so you don’t need to worry about pruning them (unless you want to give them a particular shape) or giving them too much water. They typically only need watering once a week if it’s a particularly hot or dry week. Due to how slowly they grow, these plants make great additions to your sensory garden.
Trees: These are probably the easiest part of your garden to maintain. Typically, all they need is sunlight and water. Obviously, if it’s a particularly hot week you may want to give them more water than you normally would.
Whatever kind of garden you decide to create, these simple steps will help you get started and on your way to creating a beautiful and fun garden for children with special needs.
Maybe they’ll even learn a few things while they’re playing in your garden!
Step Two: Making A Pond
Ponds are a great way of adding a new dimension to your garden. They not only offer a great visual element, but they also provide calm, cool areas of water for children to explore, which is perfect if you have a sensory garden.
There’s two different ways you can go about making a pond in your garden and it really just depends on what you have available to you.
Option One: You already have a pond on your property
If you already have a pond on your property and you’re able to use it, then you’re one lucky individual because you’re saving yourself a lot of hassle. If this is the case, then all you really need to do is get some bleach to put in the water (to prevent any bacteria growing in it) and you should be good to go.
Option Two: You don’t have a pond on your property
If you don’t have a pond on your property then you’ll need to get one and the best way to do that is to get some fish tanks from a thrift store (or similar source) and arranging them together in the shape you want your pond to be. It’s also a good idea to put a little ramp from the top tank to the bottom one so that the water can flow out of the bottom tank. This will prevent your pond from being stagnant.
Once you have all your fish tanks set up, you then need to connect them together with pipes. You want the water to be able to flow from the top tank, through the pipes, and end up in the bottom tank. To do this, you need to cut holes in the bottom of the top tank (where the water is poured in) and in the lid of the bottom tank (where the water will end up).
Cover the holes with netting or some other kind of filter to stop any fish from getting into them.
After all that’s done, fill ‘er up with water, add some fish, and you’ve got yourself a working pond!
Step Three: Other Elements To Include
Now that you have the outside of your sensory garden all set up, it’s time to start working on the inside. Every sensory garden is going to be a little different but there are some elements that most (if not all) of them will have in common.
Here are some of the things you may want to include in your sensory garden:
Sand is a great way to stimulate the sense of touch because its granules are large enough that they can be felt easily but small enough that they won’t hurt if they get into a cut. Many children with autism, as well as other special needs children, also have a fascination with sand so it’s a great addition to your garden.
The best way to include sand in your sensory garden is to set up a little area of sand where children can play. Usually, this area will have a thin layer of sand (no more than an inch thick) and the rest of the area around it will either be bare, composed of small pebbles, or some kind of ground cover (grass or artificial turf are good choices). This separation is important because children aren’t going to want to get sand everywhere else.
Sources & references used in this article:
Therapeutic intervention: using sensory gardens to enhance the quality of life for children with special needs by H Hussein – 2009 – Citeseer
Gardening for children with autism spectrum disorders and special educational needs: Engaging with nature to combat anxiety, promote sensory integration … by N Etherington – 2012 – books.google.com
Gardening ideas for children with special needs by S Foster, J Powell – 1992 – ir.library.oregonstate.edu
An Exploratory Study of Sensory Gardens by H Hussein – Retrieved June, 2009 – media5.cagd.co.uk
The design principles of therapeutic gardens by AT POLAT, S GÜNGÖR, M DEMIR – Uluslararası Peyzaj Mimarlığı …, 2017 – researchgate.net
The child in the garden: An evaluative review of the benefits of school gardening by D Blair – The journal of environmental education, 2009 – Taylor & Francis
We can’t change what we don’t recognize: Understanding the special needs of gifted females by SM Reis – Gifted Child Quarterly, 1987 – journals.sagepub.com