By Aaron Michael -
Earth Love Gardens was honored to design and create the custom raised garden beds, and install with volunteers the sensory, pollinator, and edible gardens at the Anchor Center for Blind Children in Denver. The Anchor Center for Blind Children provides early education and intervention services for children birth to five years old who are blind or visually impaired. Their collaborative team approach to education, therapeutic and family support services ensures lifelong success.
Naturally, working with and experiencing gardens and nature helps with the development of the children, and Earth Love Gardens was happy to facilitate these invaluable gardens for the mission of the Anchor Center.
We were initially connected to the project by the Colorado Garden Foundation, which also generously provided the grant funding to make it all possible. Visiting the Anchor Center for the first time, we listened to the wants and needs of the staff. Following our consultation meeting, we put together a proposal for the project that the Anchor Center loved.
We learned that about half of the children at the Anchor Center utilize the use of wheelchairs or walkers. This is as experiencing degrees of blindness may just be one symptom of another disability, such as muscular dystrophy. Knowing this, we designed a unique wheelchair-accessible raised garden bed for young children in small wheelchairs as well as a garden bed with the correct height for those children in walkers. For the wheelchair-accessible raised garden bed, we researched the best dimensions for children's wheelchairs and came up with a one-of-a-kind design. Now, all children are empowered to work their hands in the soil and touch and connect with the plants!
The next step was to prepare for the installation of the sensory, pollinator, and edible gardens. This behind-the-scenes work included choosing the best plants for the project, sourcing and ordering, and preparing the plants for planting. Working with Kelly Mitchell, the Anchor Center's Horticultural Therapist, we carefully chose sensory garden plants for the children. These included plants such as Catmint, native Chocolate Flower, Lavender, and much more. We received the nicest compliment from Mary Eisenstein, Grants & Proposal Development Manager with the Anchor Center, sharing "thank you so much Aaron for your proactive communication throughout the preparation phase of this project. We feel like we are in such good hands with you."
Leading through our Project Management, it was time to the install the sensory, pollinator, and edible gardens with the help of groups of selfless, hardworking volunteers...all planned for one day! New mulch was provided in all the gardens, with countless wheelbarrow loads pushed by the volunteers to get this mulch beautifully in place. We carefully placed the sensory plants in their proper positions in the sensory garden and volunteers would soon come up to plant them.
On the other side of the building, we installed pollinator habitat with thoughtfully selected pollinator plants that would also help in the development of the children. Qualities were considered such as with the textures and strong hue of the Purple Coneflower, striking red stems of the Red-Osier Dogwood, and great smelling (and tasting) leaves and flowers of Anise Hyssop. Nearby, we also planted herbs such as Oregano, Lavender, Rosemary, and more. Not only tasty, the sensory qualities of these plants also help with the development of the children.
The last garden was a brand-new area that was previously just large thick-rooted non-native shrubs and English Ivy. After much work, the shrubs and Ivy were gone, to be replaced with new pollinator and edible gardens. These gardens will be full of pollinators, birds, and more, and will fill the children with the wonders of these beautiful species! Adjacent to the new custom raised garden beds we previously built, volunteers planted edible shrubs including Gwen's Buffalo Currant, Red Currant, Black Currant, and Thornless Blackberry. The children will get to feel and taste the delicious fruits of these fruiting shrubs. How exciting! We also successfully completed all the above with volunteers within the day!
The following Saturday, the Anchor Center held its Plant & Picnic event with the children and their families. It was time for the children and their families to experience the new gardens and plant in the new raised garden beds. When we previously shared about the project on LinkedIn, the Square Foot Gardening Foundation saw the project and was also inspired. They sent us Square Foot Gardening kids' hand trowels, other Square Foot Gardening resources, and is planning to feature the project in an upcoming book!
It was amazing to experience the finished project of the children working with the gardens. From concept, to vision, to planning, to install, to witnessing the children utilizing and benefiting from the gardens, provides a feeling of accomplishment like none other. To experience their families enjoying the gardens with their children as well was priceless. These gardens will benefit the quality of life for these children and their families (as well as pollinators and birds) for generations to come and we are honored to be part of their envisioning and facilitation.