Healing the mind through gardening

Long-time gardener Gerldine Wilson is passionate about the new initiatives of Grassroots Gardens WNY to provide accessibility and opportunities for healing through gardening. “I am personally invested in making sure we knock down as many barriers to gardening as we can. Therapeutic gardening is a ‘save your life skill,’ which has been very underestimated.”

By Chris Soto May 23

Time and time again, Grassroots Gardens has heard stories of how its community gardens provide nourishment, feeding the gardeners not only physically, but emotionally and mentally, too. “Plants and gardening have forever been a force of healing for humanity, offering connection and beauty in times of crisis, from natural disaster to personal loss,” says Executive Director Jeanette Koncikowski.

Grassroots Gardens’ “Gardening for All” accessibility task force was formed in spring 2019 in response to the needs of local gardeners living with disabilities and in recognition that all people should have access to the garden network, now and in the future. Through the support of the New York State Conservation Partnership Program and the Land Trust Alliance, the task force, under the leadership of Gerldine, spent a year evaluating the community and school garden network to determine what needed to change to make the gardens accessible.

With input from several gardeners, local organizations such as Deaf Access Services, Western New York Independent Living, Olmsted Center for Sight/VIA, and Buffalo Public Schools, as well as more broadly from a community survey, Gerldine identified seven gardens for immediate improvement with a long-term plan of modifying every garden for universal access. Recommendations for improvement include (but are not limited to) the addition of accessible pathways, braille signage and trail markers and beds of varying heights. Grassroots Gardens is also thinking about accessible programming. Its lead gardener at the Mulberry Garden on Buffalo’s west side, Yann Spindler, is a Deaf person and has led both hearing and Deaf gardeners through a Gardening 101 training in American Sign Language (see photo at left; Yann is wearing a cap).

Grassroots Gardens also runs the Therapeutic Community Gardens Initiative, promoting healing through gardening, also launched in spring 2019. The task force has grown to include gardeners from Buffalo and Niagara Falls, as well as representatives from Jewish Family Services, RAHAMA, FeedMore WNY, Erie County, the University at Buffalo, Homespace Corporation, Community Missions, Wilson Support Center, Journey’s End Refugee Services and others.

The initiative’s work centers around increasing education and access to therapeutic gardening in communities, including constantly expanding partnerships with local gardeners and organizations in the mental health and wellness fields. Learn about how to make your garden more accessible by reading Grassroots Gardens' Community Garden Accessibility Guide.

This story was originally posted in Open to All: A disability inclusion guide for land trusts in 2021.