How Do You Grow a Garden?

‘Gardens are a form of autobiography.’ ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993.

I read this quote the other day, and it couldn’t have been more appropriate to me at the time! Having just returned from spending four glorious days in Chicago doing the clinical study for my Graduate Certificate in Horticulture Therapy from Kansas State University, I had the opportunity to explore the uniqueness of many different varieties of gardens, each telling its own story through its distinctive style and personality!

I saw rose gardens, vegetable gardens, roof top gardens, enabling gardens, self-contained ‘earth box’ gardens, and a Japanese garden! The enabling garden was very special, as it was built specifically to accommodate those with disabilities. The gardening beds are built higher off the ground for gardeners in wheelchairs. Every person who visits the enabling garden has their own unique experience, no matter what their handicap or disability may be. They are all able to enjoy the garden in their own unique way.

My fellow students and I helped lead a game for a group of five-year-olds in the enabling garden. This garden has textured plants specifically for the visually impaired. These plants have endearing nicknames like ‘lamb’s ear’ and ‘bunny’s tail’ and the plants actually feel like their namesakes. You should have seen the excitement on the children’s faces as they explored and wandered through the gardens touching each plant along the way!

The Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital has the most beautiful roof top garden with a waterway running through it! This garden is used for horticulture therapy with the patients. And at the Chicago Botanic Garden the living walls were abundant! Living walls feature high vertical structures blooming with the most colorful flowers, vegetables and plants you have ever seen!

We also visited Cook County Boot Camp that is a boot camp for first time felony offenders. These gentlemen tend large vegetable and fruit gardens. The gardens provide food for the boot camp kitchen and the food is also sold at the local farmer’s market. So many of these men have never eaten the vegetables and fruits they grow. This offers a life changing experience, a sense of accomplishment, and vocational training for inner city males who have been accustomed to getting their fruits and vegetables from a plastic containers!

My experience in Chicago left me feeling connected with many people from many different walks of life. And the common thread bringing us all together was the garden. Not just one garden, but a variety of many diverse gardens. I believe that gardens, like people, come in many different shapes and sizes, each one as unique and distinctive as the gardener that nurtures it!

Gardens speak to us on so many different levels. They allow us to appreciate and embrace the differences and diversity in our lives and celebrate our similarities as well. It really doesn’t matter what type of garden you have, whether it is a rose garden, a vegetable garden or a roof top garden! We are all connected and yet unique, and the garden is a way for us to express and honor that individuality. It is a way to write our own autobiography!

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