On September 22, 2012, I had the honor of being part of one of the biggest volunteer projects in the history of our province, as more than 400 volunteers showed up at my school to build an entire park in one day!
(Some of the HUNDREDS of volunteers)
Freedom Park, located on the grounds of Jamieson Academy, Salt Pond, encompasses a state of the art playground, an outdoor classroom, a walking trail with a gazebo, and a Sensory Garden. The Sensory Garden was MY baby, and I am so proud of how my team of volunteers worked together to make my vision a reality.
(An awesome team!)
When the playground committee invited me to consult on this project, I was a little hesitant. Even though I had recently completed a landscape design course, I had never actually worked in this field. This was a monumental project, and I was afraid that I may have bitten off more than I could chew by taking this on as my very first official project as a professional garden designer. However the lure of the project was more than I could resist!
The lure for me was not just the opportunity to design a garden, but the committee was looking specifically for a garden designed with Autistic children in mind. I have been gardening with my Autistic son, Ben, from the time he was big enough to hold a seed, and I have witnessed the many therapeutic benefits of gardening with children like him. I saw this as a unique opportunity to help Ben and other children like him to fully experience nature through their senses.
People with Autism, experience the world through their senses differently than others. Sounds that may seem loud to us, can be physically painful to them, thus causing them to cover their ears.
(The soothing sounds of trickling water and whispering winds through the grass.)
Children with Autism have a reputation of being “picky eaters”. This is largely due to a sensitivity, not just to strong flavours, but also to different textures of foods.
(Children are invited to taste the mildness of lettuce to the sharp tastes of sage and thyme)
You may have seen people with Autism flicker their fingers, or pieces of paper in front of their eyes. They do this to self-stimulate through their visual sense. In general, they take pleasure in visual sensations.
(Bright colors to stimulate the visual sense.)
While Ben is under-sensitive to touch, and craves the deep pressure of a good, strong hug, many children with Autism have an over-sensitive tactile sense, and do not like to be touched at all.
(A variety of textures, from the velvety smooth feel of lamb’s ear, to the rough feel of chicks-n-hens)
Like the closely linked sense of taste, the sense of smell is often super sensitive in children with Autism. I have seen these children literally gag at smells that I might find only mildly offensive.
(Pleasant smells such as lavendar, and the citrus smell of marigolds delight the sense of smell)
The Sensory Garden at Freedom Park was designed with all of these things in mind. My prayer to the spirits of nature was that I be guided to create a setting for these children in particular, which would be both stimulating and soothing to their senses. I thank the playground committee, and Mr. Ian Hill (Let Them Be Kids Foundation) for providing me with this blessed opportunity.
(Me and Ben)