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Hope is a Garden

A blog post by Marianne Brooks
Marianne Brooks
Anna Ritchie School of Special Education
Posted 30/08/2022

This blog from Marianne Brooks, teacher of children with special needs at the Anna Ritchie School of Special Education, tells how the Nursery and Primary 1 classes designed, created and grew a very precious Pocket Garden - winning second place in our online showcase, which was voted on by the public earlier this year.

This garden was born out of dreams, seeds and love.

It is said that a child with autism doesn’t enter your world, they wait for you to enter theirs. Temple Grandin, a famous advocate for people with autism, has said that people with autism need to experience new things outside their experiences, they can’t know they enjoy music if they have never experienced an instrument. "You have to let autistic children experience the world you cannot let them tune out," she says. "We’ve got to get kids out doing a lot more hands on things . . . we’ve got a lot of kids today who are growing up not using tools." Taking on the Pocket Garden Challenge was about giving children that experience, and to raise awareness and understanding in our community. Our children’s families could realise the experiences their children live through a garden that responded to their child’s needs and celebrate a special garden that meets special needs.


Designing a garden with children with limited communication meant quietly watching, listening and understanding our children. We created eight small pots around the likes we observed of our eight small people. We created a design that was completely immersive; a physical experience as much as a horticultural one. Once we had collected all our children’s needs together, and designed a garden around them, we had what we would call a sensory garden, without even trying. We experience our world through all the senses, and a garden is a perfect place to envelope ourselves in all our senses.

Calm Space

The pocket garden palette has its own containment. Limited in size, it is a perfect size for our small ones to explore and still feel safe without being overwhelmed. We wanted a canopy to reflect the experiences our children sought out in the classroom, so we created the rainbow willow arch, full of ribbons, colour and light. Since we had to dissemble the garden, we have now learned to incorporate swatches of material draped over garden areas during outdoor learning, to recreate that safe, calm space.


The individual pots we planted with our children were covered in sensory material; fur, colourful, eye-catching designs that would draw our children into the space. The recycled flowers, created from the children’s water and juice bottles, were both tactile and auditory. They make a wonderful noise when you pull on the ribbons on which they are suspended. The ribbons catch the wind and cause a flutter out of the corner of your eye. The decorated, recycled CDs catch the light and visual attention, causing the child to pause in the garden, to stay still and enjoy the space.


Our garden had to be edible, for children, not just the birds and bees. An edible garden meant we could also experience the plants also through the sense of taste, our nasturtiums, thyme, basil, mint. The planks of the garden palette had to be covered with carpet to stop the children getting splinters. Everything had to be fixed down for safety. The container to collect rainwater had to be emptied daily. Learning to be safe in the garden.

Over the summer, we dismantled the garden into component parts that would survive seven weeks of vacation. As our new cohort of children join us and our garden, it is delightful to see one pulling at the little fuchsia bells, another jangling the hanging plastic bottle flowers on the fence, another child running their fingers through the ribbons we have threaded in loops around our garden space, and yet another pausing at the herbs. I run my fingers over the thyme leaves and lift them for them to smell. They run their own fingers through the herbs and smell. We understand each other. We have communication.

When we love, we care. When we care, we pay attention. When we pay attention, we are quiet, we watch and listen. When we watch and listen, we begin to learn about what is around us. This garden was born from this, learning about ourselves and creating a garden around that. Grow your hopes, your dreams, grow a garden that reflects who you are and what you want in your life.

Grow love.

Photos courtesy of Cheryl Lawrence.

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