Understanding the Vision

Over the past month, the Longwood Fellows have been conducting an investigation. Like gathering clues to solve a mystery, we’ve been communicating with stakeholders of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Service’s (DHSS) Garden Project to better understand who the garden will serve and how best to meet their needs.  The knowledge we’ve reaped will help us formulate a design for the new garden—the ultimate deliverable of this summer’s Professional Outreach Project.

The Focus Group and Design Program Team (Laura, Zoe, Felicia & James) lead the way in defining the wants and needs for the planned therapeutic and community garden. They held a focus group of DHSS staff and horticulture and art therapy professionals, met with therapists and clients at the Psychiatric Center, and conducted an online survey of DHSS employees. Feedback from these activities was captured in a written Design Program, a prioritized list of elements to include in the final design.

Faith Kuehn, manager of the DHSS Garden Project and POP Advisory Committee member, offers her thoughts about the garden during the focus group, while James attentively takes notes.

Formal information gathering sessions have only been one component of the investigation, however. Raakel, Assistant POP Leader, organized a user-centered learning activity for the Fellows at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens. She challenged us to a scavenger hunt through the lens of simulated disabilities, including visual, audio, and physical impairments. Our experiences and observations—and a debriefing with several accessibility experts–helped us better understand the challenges of creating a universally accessible garden.

During the user-centered learning activity, Dongah and Ashby learn the importance of wide paths, Zoe experiences a hearing impairment, and James views the garden through blurred lenses. Terri Hancharick from the UD Center for Disabilities Studies provided additional insight.

Our investigations have also been rounded out by field trips.  Several Fellows visited community gardens in Wilmington under the tutelage of Ann Mattingly, Community Gardens Manager for Delaware Center for Horticulture, and member of our Professional Outreach Project’s Advisory Committee.  Ashby and Raakel visited Chicago Botanic Garden to learn more about their exemplary horticultural therapy program.  A field trip planned for next week will take us to three horticultural therapy sites in the Philadelphia area.

During the tour of community gardens, Ann emphasized the importance of community buy-in during all stages of the project.

Ashby and Raakel met with Barbara Kreski, Director of Horticulture Therapy at the Chicago Botanic Garden, who provided excellent insight into universal design.

Smooth paving and raised beds are key characteristics of the Chicago Botanic Garden's Buehler Enabling Garden.

So, now that we understand the vision, what is to be done with it? This past Wednesday, the Design Charrette and Garden Layout Team (Kate, Dongah, Ashby & Aubree) began the process of translating the vision into a plan.  On our next POP blog, you’ll see how project stakeholders, art therapy professionals, students, and designers worked together to draft ideas onto paper…a magnificent forward leap towards our final design!