Designing a Garden Considering Autism and Special Needs:

Is your garden providing too much stimuli, or too little?

What makes a soothing area in which to re-center?

What should pathway surfaces be like and how wide?

How do environmental noises make an impact on the garden experience?

One of my favorite (and award-winning) websites is the Therapeutic Landscapes Network. It’s an extremely thorough resource for those specializing in combining their landscape design skills with concepts of health and well-being.

Two months ago I asked its founder and director Naomi Sachs, if by any chance she had ever done a story about landscape design for autistic children. I already knew Naomi had her finger on the pulse of her field. Lo and behold, she and Tara Vincenta (both ASLAs) were in the process of writing an extended piece about Autism and Special Needs. Tara is founder and principal of Artemis Landscape Architects, Inc. and Naomi not only runs the resource website but runs her own landscape design and consulting firm. Below you can link to the article.

I urge you to head right to these links for some valuable information on how to make your landscape, your garden, your park of optimal benefit for these individuals. After all, April is Autism Awareness month. All of us know of folks with special needs.

The publication article: Outdoor Environments for Children with Autism and Special Needs. It outlines research and design considerations for creating outdoor, nature based spaces that allow children with autism and other special needs to play and learn at their own comfort level, overcoming common challenges in a safe, fun environment that is equally engaging for any child. Find the article via: http://www.healinglandscapes.org/blog/2011/04/outdoor-environments-for-children-with-autism-special-needs-in-informedesigns-implications/

True to thorough form, Naomi has also collected a list of Resources on Autism and Access to Nature posted here. http://www.healinglandscapes.org/blog/2011/04/april-autism-awareness-landscape-architecture-month/implications-resources-2/

Check out Therapeutic Landscape Network — a site that emulates enormous dedication, research and study. http://www.healinglandscapes.org/about-mission.html

Nancy R. Peck


Point Reyes National Seashore

Well, I’m back from my trip to the San Francisco area. But there are oodles of pictures and places to share so we can keep on field tripping.

Take a full tank of gasoline—hybrid even better—and head on out to the remote and top-of-the-world Point Reyes National Seashore, all 70,000 acres about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. Wow!

When you go, enjoy the rolling coastal grasslands on the way. Pass the cows and cattle of the historic landmark ranches—a beautifully pastoral landscape scene in Northern California’s green season. It’s an opportunity to learn about the history of ranching here if you so choose. You might be interested in reading about The Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), the first land trust in the United States to focus on farmland preservation. http://www.malt.org/

Though it was April, once arriving at the top we found a need to hunt in the trunk for a buried set of ear muffs and scarf. There is a wind chill factor at the top of the world—it may be the windiest point on the Pacific coastline. Ear muffs worked well for one set of ears. A rumpled white towel had to stand in as a scarf for the other person–me. Didn’t care how silly I looked with a white towel wound around my neck and ears. One can enjoy the geology, the passing gray whales if you’re lucky (we weren’t). The overhead views of the ocean bring various movie dramas to mind. Just dress in layers.

Ice plants are a delight to see. Read the signs all about the wonderful world of lichens and algae. Though not true plants, they dot and coat the rocky landscape at Point Reyes with a reward of color. Surviving harsh winds and salt spray, hundreds of other species of plants and animals inhabit this expansive seashore—900 species of vascular plants alone. I didn’t see nearly that many, but someone’s sure been doing a lot of counting. “Over 50 plants at Point Reyes are currently listed [and monitored] by the Federal government, State government, or the California Native Plant Society as being rare, threatened, or endangered.” Find out more at http://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm.

Now, there is a lighthouse with legacy down a steep set of 308 stairs. But judging from the huffing and puffing of the 20 year olds coming back up the stairs—I skipped that part and used my imagination.

We timed the field trip perfectly finishing up the field trip just as an eerie fog crept in over the cliffs from the Pacific.

An aside: The latrine at the top of the world offers no running water, so pack those pre-moistened wipes for freshening up!

Nancy R. Peck

Richard James collected bottles

Richard James' bottle collection

Often it is the discoveries one makes in between the final destinations that make a trip interesting. Transported from San Francisco to Point Reyes National Seashore we came across this display in a barnyard. These are giant bottle shapes sculpted out of chicken wire and filled with the litter of actual plastic water bottles. An accompanying photo reads:

In One year

One person collected these bottles

On the beaches of One national park: Point Reyes

Most plastic in the ocean breaks into particles that contaminate

The fish that eat them and us where we eat the fish.

Use One metal bottle.

Collected, created and photographed by Richard James copyright 2011.

If you follow through to “Coastodian’s” blog www.coastodian.org you’ll learn this:

Almost every day Richard walks for miles up and down Tomales Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. Carrying a backpack, he collects 40 to 60 pounds of trash each trip.

Shows how just one person can make a difference, but a shame that one could spend a lifetime cleaning up after folks. Thanks, Richard, for making every day Earth Day.

Nancy R. Peck

Flora Grubb Gardens

whimsy at Flora Grubb Gardens

Stylize shabby-chic whimsy, then intersperse it with plenty of copper, grey-green hues of the Southwest, and you have Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. Add lots of outdoor bistro chairs in this environment and you can’t help but linger.

Flora Grubb’s succulent nursery needs no plug from me. She’s got plenty of marketing savvy and makes her place an active destination not only for plant and accessory sales but for demonstrations too. In what seems a comeback warehouse district one is drawn off the typical tourist path and near the “India Basin” industrial waterfront.

Agave at Flora Grubb Gardens

In addition to the shopping fun, I got to see the loving-care hose-misting of the vertical succulent garden, pictured below. Hung on the wall it is nearly as wide as I am tall. For those wanting to start their own vertical garden she does sell 20″x20″ trays which contain 45 slanted planting cells to support the plants and soil once the frame is mounted on the wall.

Among other things I was delighted to find the perfect weathered grapewood branch upon which to mount the air plant waiting for me back home.

Do visit Flora Grubb Gardens http://www.floragrubb.com/idx/index.php

Nancy R. Peck

Flora Grubb Gardens' succulent vertical garden

Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is, of course, a favorite attraction. On April 3 the azaleas, magnolias and cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the sun is shining, 75 degrees—what could be better?

This 5-acre garden, the oldest Japanese garden in the United States, was originally created as a “Japanese Village” exhibit for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. Makoto Hagiwara designed and paid for the bulk of this rural-type garden and was officially appointed caretaker the same year. He passed away in 1925 and his family continued to live there in a 17-room house in the Sunken Garden area. In 1942, as with others of Japanese heritage, the family was forced to leave. The San Francisco Recreation & Park Department has maintained the garden since.

Though late in coming, Hagiwara Makoto and his family were honored in 1974. A road along the garden is now named Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive.

Link http://japaneseteagardensf.com/

Also of interest: San Francisco Parks Trust http://www.sfpt.org/

Golden Gate Park, Japanese Tea Garden

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park Conservatory of Flowers

Lowland Tropics room, Conservatory of Flowers

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco offers a number of sites for the plant lover. In a view from the road, we see two sun-lovers sprawled on a blanket on the wide open lawn space. Annual garden plots set off a strikingly-bright white Conservatory of Flowers beyond. Small chaperoned troupes of delightful children are prancing about . . . taking in the fresh April air between potty breaks.

The Conservatory’s main center dome is flanked by a wing of two galleries on the right—Highland Tropics Plants and Aquatic Plants. The wing to the left of the dome offers a Potted Plants display and temporary special exhibit room. I cross the entrance threshold and immediately find myself in a moist Palm Court of towering green Lowland Tropical plants—a magnificent thick display of ferns, banana, cacao, Jurassic cycads and much more. Here and there blue and orange bits of color are randomly cast, source being the sunshine through the structure’s stained glass.

Through the next door, the Highland Tropics gallery recreates high elevation forests of the tropics. There’s a nice display of mosses and the epiphytes which I like—plants that grow on other plants. The room offers much to whet our appreciation of orchids. This is where a renowned collection of Pleurothallid orchids can be found. Through another door, the Aquatic Plants room is picture perfect as we learn about water lilies and lotus. Also on view is a collection of carnivorous pitcher plants and bromeliads.

This striking building is said to be the oldest public conservatory in the Western hemisphere—opening in 1879—as well as the oldest structure in the park.

Much thanks goes to recent restoration efforts and dollars to do so. With these plants well-established and in such a yesteryear atmosphere, I just might get inspiration for writing a Victorian historical novel. At this conservatory one can get close to specimens: smell the gardenia, inspect the fronds, study orchid details and view exotics from around the world. http://www.conservatoryofflowers.org/

While others might prefer a huge botanical exhibit extravaganza as found in some other large cities, I felt this was just the right size with an ambiance for a mini-retreat—leaving time for other Golden Gate Park experiences. Next stop: Japanese Tea Garden.

Nancy R. Peck

Aquatic Plants room Conservatory of Flowers

Aquatic Plants room, Conservatory of Flowers

Botanical Garden at UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

I’ve left the desk-nest this week and am touring the San Francisco area. Sunny weather. That’s always a nice gift to bring to one’s host.

Field trip to UC Berkeley Botanical Garden: Up up up the hill the car crawls past two flagmen. Grunting trucks are painstakingly choreographed  in the renovation/retrofit project going on at the old university football stadium. Destination reached and admission paid, we enter this very diverse 34-acre UC Berkeley research garden—13,000 varieties sectioned off by geographic regions of the world’s continents. First we enter the Arid House with its large collection of the quirkiest of cacti, sheltered, because they would not tolerate the Bay Area’s dampness. The collection dates back to the 1920s.

Exiting that shed, one is immediately struck by (photo above) the “Southern Africa” rocky hillside on the left dotted with oranges, yellow, purple annuals and bulbs and fan aloes. Turn around and there’s a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay behind a gauze of atmospheric blue.

I’m always attracted by the sound of water features. The Japanese Pond (photo below) augments the diminutive Strawberry Creek which runs midway through the property. The pond is set off by a small waterfall framed by maples, empress tree and dogwoods. But the pool’s claim to fame is its breeding ground reputation for Taricha torosa (newts), native to upper Strawberry Canyon. I got to see several newt couples doing their thing which is always interesting. Ah spring.

The loudest aspect of the botanical gardens, I would say, is a chorus of frogs. They live in a pond ecosystem which lies between the Herb Garden and Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden. No need to follow path signs, just follow your ears.

There’s much to see and learn at this botanical garden but I did notice that some toddlers couldn’t be happier frolicking around a small man-built water feature next to the tour deck and rest rooms. Down close to the ground and with attention to details they were fascinated searching for the little slimy critters clinging for dear life to the concrete pond wall.


For a list of garden tours click here http://botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu/education/tours.shtml#children

Nancy R. Peck

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden Japanese Pool

Japanese Pool at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden