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A Garden of Senses

Plants may be the most underappreciated living organism on this planet. They do so much for us without asking anything in return. Yesterday, I planted a sensory garden at the Lazy J Ranch in Salisbury, where I teach therapeutic horse riding lessons.

A sensory garden is a safe place to explore and feel comfortable. Children with autism and brain injuries often feel overwhelmed with sensory stimulation. Some children may be sensory seeking while others may be sensory avoidant. A sensory garden provides a calming environment and an outlet.

Garden therapy or a sensory garden can have dramatic benefits for children who have autism or brain injuries. Let’s face it. It can have benefits for anyone! With children who are having a tough time navigating in a confusing world, a sensory garden can have huge dividends. Some benefits include:

  • Improved verbal communications and interpersonal skills

  • More confidence to complete a task

  • Learn how to adapt to different situations

  • Better at coping with stress

In the study, Caring local biodiversity in a healing garden: Therapeutic benefits in young subjects with autism, the authors state, “children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) receive emotional, physical and social benefits from engaging with nature and taking care of living organisms.”

Best of all, a therapeutic garden allows for a child to get their hands dirty. The child can learn the power of plants and how to care and support different plants. Because plants have many stages of growth in a relatively short period, gardening provides the opportunity to follow multi-step directions.

It is a win-win when a child can watch a plant thrive due to their involvement. Through their hard work, they can harvest healthy foods that they helped grow. This opens the door for introducing the benefits of cooking and eating other healthy foods.

For this sensory garden that I planted, I had three different raised beds:

  • an herb garden

  • a flower garden

  • a vegetable garden

For the herb garden, I planted chives, basil, thyme, mint and strawberries.

For the flower bed, I planted a variety of marigolds, lavender, bee balms and Nepeta.

For the vegetable bed, I planted cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, zucchini, and some more basil.

Since Lazy J Ranch has two horses, five ponies, one miniature horse, and several goats, there is a fence so that the garden does not become fast-food for the animals. However, there is one hidden benefit of a sensory garden. The animals have the opportunity to enjoy the garden (without eating it).

For my lessons, I like to offer my students to lead a pony to the garden and observe if the pony has a favorite plant. It is a great way to study and observe a pony's body language.

Plants have so much to offer all children. They show us how we are connected to all life. Give a child a plant or teach them how to garden. I say let’s teach them the power of gardening.

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