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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

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flowers in black and white

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to experience my life without color. From my naive viewpoint, I’m assuming that viewing bunches of black and white flowers is equivalent to . . . well . . . endless months of enormously cloudy days.

Color vision deficiency in its rarest form does limit a person to shades of grey as in the image above. But other forms of deficiency are not as extreme. Deuteranomaly, for instance, may be the most common type, mildly affecting red-green hue discrimination in 5-8% of males, and some females. According to Wikipedia, another more rare form exhibits a difficulty discriminating blues from yellows.

An excellent article on this topic is making its way around the landscape design community. It is written by Genevieve Schmidt. It appears on her website/blog North Coast Gardening. She rounded up research and then summarized recommendations to those gardeners who might encounter homeowners experiencing color vision deficiency.

A good recommendation she includes is—take the color-blind client nursery shopping. This helps the designer get a better sense of their particular color challenge and to learn what horticulture elements are uniquely delightful to this particular person.

The thorough article includes an interview with a color-blind gentleman, comparison photographs, and additional links. Also are recommendations regarding maximizing texture, light effects, variegation, layering, and inclusion of dramatic shapes. Optimal garden experiences might include elements that freely react to wind, and that favor the other senses with scent and sound enhancements.  

Explore Genevieve’s website including her delightful video and “About” page. Among her other positive outlooks she says “Designing a garden for someone who is color blind isn’t reducing enjoyment for anyone else, rather it’s stealthily adding a whole new dimension of enjoyment.”

Nancy R. Peck

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