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The children’s garden brings natural therapy to the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre

Published on September 23, 2013

Children's gardenA painted sign leads the way to the children's garden at the
Hincks-Dellcrest Centre (Photo: Celeste Longhurst)

By Celeste Longhurst, Project Manager, Evergreen

Carol Knibbe, an art therapist at The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, noticed traditional therapy was not meeting the needs of all her clients, many of whom had experienced deep trauma and loss early in life. She began taking these clients outside to plant flower bulbs, and found that they responded incredibly well to this simple therapeutic treatment. From this the idea for the children’s garden at the centre was seeded and began to grow.

The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre is a mental health facility that focuses primarily on servicing children and youth from high-needs neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area. Located near Keele Street and Sheppard Avenue West, the centre’s vision is to bring hope, optimism and possibilities to the children and families they serve.

Through the program, the outdoor space at the centre has been transformed from an unused grassy patch of land into a thriving garden that is actively used by children and youth in their therapy sessions.

A nine-year-old boy, who had experienced much family violence and liked to make pretend weapons, began participating in gardening activities and helped construct a scarecrow. Initially he wanted the scarecrow to have a gun. After doing therapy sessions in the garden he invented a duct tape and tube "watering device" that had two spouts, "to water two plants at once." He was very excited about creating this device, and his therapists were thrilled to see his energy expressed in a productive way instead of focusing on aggressive items to protect himself.

Strawberry patch in children's gardenPainted signs for the garden, like this one for the strawberry patch, gives the children a chance to flex their creative muscles as well as their green thumbs (Photo: Celeste Longhurst)

From Carol’s initiative, the idea of nature-therapy has sprouted and continues to flourish, with suggestions from the youth and children of the centre. Asking for more fruits, a strawberry patch was planted (and yes—children are allowed to eat the strawberries!) One child suggested building a research centre to try out different seeds Another child who enjoyed working with clay came up with the idea that each child should build a clay brick, and that together all the bricks could be used to build a greenhouse so the garden season could be extended throughout the winter.

The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre isn’t finished growing their garden—they have big plans for the next phase, including a pond-less waterfall for relaxation and meditation, planting a variety of fruit trees, building a larger seating area for children, youth and families to enjoy the garden, and a greenhouse (as per the children’s suggestions!)

Evergreen is proud to support the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre’s efforts to provide a natural therapeutic space that helps transform mental health treatment for children and youth.

To learn more about this and other amazing projects taking root with the support of the Walmart–Evergreen Green Grants program across Canada, visit our website!