Five Counties and GreenUP Partner to create Therapy Garden

October 9th, 2020

By Hayley Goodchild, Sustainability and Landscaping Project Coordinator at GreenUP

Have you ever heard cottonwoods rustle in the wind? Like many trees in the poplar family, their leaves amplify even the slightest breeze. I drank in this sound during a visit to Five Counties Children’s Centre in Peterborough’s north end this summer and felt a sense of calm that has been all too rare in recent months.

My visit was part of an ongoing project between Five Counties and GreenUP. Together we’re transforming the Centre’s outdoor space into an accessible Blue-Green Therapy Garden. The “Green” in the name represents sustainability, while “Blue” reminds us of our connections and obligations to the Otonabee Region watershed.­­ This space will be used to enhance Five Counties’ services and educate the community about the health benefits of nature.

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto has offered a similar garden and play program at their two-acre Spiral Garden since the 1980s.

“We see children open up to being outdoors and responding to what they see, hear, smell, taste, feel, think and do, in a natural setting that they may not experience in their daily lives,” says Shannon Crossman, program coordinator at Holland Bloorview. “We see them learning to relax into getting wet, messy, and dirty and joyously experiencing these states.”

A 2018 study that compiled global data involving over 280 million people demonstrated that spending time in nature benefits your health. This adds to growing scientific evidence suggesting that by engaging with nature you can improve both your physical and mental health.

“Having activities that are nature-based and site-specific, supported by caring, nature-loving adults, goes a long way to opening up the kids’ minds to what it can mean to be in nature in a connective, meaningful, safe and creative way,” Crossman adds.

The original concept plan for the Blue-Green Therapy Garden features a rain barrel to store rainwater, a large oak tree to provide shade, many native plant species to increase biodiversity, an accessible concrete path, and a secondary path to allow for exploration. (Illustration by Hayley Goodchild)

A collaborative co-design process guides the project at Five Counties. Everyone in the community has been invited to participate in the design of the garden. The result is a vision that reflects the needs, priorities, and creativity of the staff, children, and families at Five Counties.

“We are very excited about our partnership with GreenUP to create a special place for our clients and staff,” says Scott Pepin, chief executive officer at Five Counties. “I know the kids and the therapists working with them will enjoy investigating and discovering while exploring the various areas. And these activities will in turn help develop their speech, fine and gross motor skills in a relaxing, positive environment. Additionally, staff, including myself, will welcome a natural space where we can go to refresh and recharge during the workday.”

The garden at Five Counties will feature a series of zones. Each zone will offer a different opportunity for sensory engagement, therapeutic programming, and unstructured play.

A calming prairie zone will allow staff and visitors of all abilities to immerse themselves among plants that move in the wind and are soft to touch. A nature zone will encourage children to explore and interact with plants and wildlife. By crouching, reaching, and navigating uneven surfaces, children will develop their gross and fine motor skills in a less clinical setting than they are used to.

The project also has environmental benefits and will help increase local biodiversity by adding nearly a thousand plants to the property. This helps Peterborough’s urban forest grow and protects our watershed by improving the ground’s ability to absorb and filter rain water.

Work on the garden began this fall and will continue into 2021. In October 2020, GreenUP staff and volunteers layered compost and woodchips over cardboard and newspaper to establish the garden beds. This technique is called “no-dig” or “lasagna” gardening. It reduces the work of removing sod, adds organic matter to the soil, and minimizes the amount of waste generated during construction. Volunteers are also invited to join us next spring when we will plant trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers into the decomposing layers.

Five Counties Children’s Centre CEO Scott Pepin and his family help layer newspaper and soil to create the Therapy Garden.

Of course, you don’t need a fancy garden to enjoy the health benefits of being in nature. It can be as simple as taking time to notice the living environment around you. Give these suggestions a try:

  • See how many different colours of fall leaves you can find. How do they feel in your hands?
  • Pick an apple from a tree and enjoy the crisp fall taste. (Don’t forget to ask permission if the tree is on someone else’s property.)
  • Look for late-blooming flowers you can smell, such as asters and goldenrod. Are they attracting pollinators?
  • Find a safe spot near the river to sit and listen to the water. Talk to the river and tell the water why you are thankful for it.

Scott Pepin, CEO of Five Counties Children’s Centre, and his family prepare to plant a tree as part of the new Therapy Garden.

For more information about the Blue-Green Therapy Garden Project, or to inquire about volunteering on with this project, please contact Hayley Goodchild, Sustainability and Landscaping Project Coordinator, at hayley.goodchild@greenup.on.ca. Volunteers are required to register in advance. This project has been made possible by a generous donation to the Five Counties Children’s Centre.

To learn more about the physical and mental health benefits of nature, visit https://www.treehugger.com/huge-study-confirms-significant-health-benefits-nature-4858628.

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