The benefits of gardening are manifold, on both our mental and physical sense of well-being. Alongside the proven benefits that simply being outside has on young people’s mental health, This article from the British Psychological Society states that:
“Engagement in gardening activities (either integrated in the school curriculum or community and home-based) has shown to promote social relationships, family connection, emotional and mental wellbeing, moderate stress, reduce depression and anxiety, and improve cognitive and educational outcomes in children and adolescents”.
The benefits of wheelchair-accessible raised beds
The physical challenges inherent in the tasks we face whilst gardening can make the garden a place of exclusion for those with differing physical capabilities and needs.
When the benefits of gardening are so vast, there is no excuse for gardening to be taken off the table for anyone.
Using raised beds not only makes it easier for children of all abilities to define the ‘gardening’ space (putting paid to the terrible woe of newly-trodden seedlings!) but, if you invest in wheelchair-accessible planters, raised beds can be communal spaces where everybody can gather, regardless of their access needs. Wheelchairs can be wheeled underneath the platform, creating a position from which the beds are easy to manage and engage with – whether standing or from a seated, wheelchair-based position.
Why sleeper planter gardens are a great investment
There are many wonderful side effects that come from encouraging children to cultivate plants. A simple 2m long sleeper planter takes up minimal space but can enrich your environment profoundly.
The massive well-being boosts which come from gardening include a sense of satisfaction, feelings of achievement and mastery, and pride. Growing something from nothing, nurturing a seedling to a fully-fledged plant and reaping the joy of sights, smells, and even tastes, can be a remarkably empowering act.
These feelings are all the more valuable for children who do not excel in traditional academic contexts. Growing and nurturing provide a different route to success, boosting levels of self-esteem, self-belief, and self-confidence.
Gardening also brings some space and calm into what can be a loud, high-pressured, frenetic academic environment. The meditative moment created when our hands are busy with a quiet task can create a moment of quiet, peace, and reflection, which lowers cortisol levels and allows adults and children alike the chance to hit reset.
As the BPS suggests,
“Engagement in gardening has shown to have both immediate and long-term effects on mental health outcomes. Just gardening for several hours provides instantaneous reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms, while gardening daily is associated with reduced stress and increased life satisfaction.”
The physical benefits of gardening
This English Garden article explores the benefits of gardening on our bodies and physical systems:
Gardeners have lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This facilitates easier sleep patterns, relaxation, and well-being.
Because it raises activity levels, gardening leads to a stronger heart and cardiovascular system, building stamina and endurance levels. These factors lead to a lower risk level for strokes and heart attacks.
As well as improving arm strength, gardening also improves manual dexterity, as children use tools like forks and spades to manipulate the soil. Actions like planting and weeding are great opportunities to work on improving fine motor skills, too.
Back & Abdominals
Bending, twisting, lifting, carrying – as long as we are doing them safely, with safe loads, gardening is putting our musculature to work, strengthening our core and back.
How to approach raised bed planting projects
A raised bed allows for only a limited amount of space. But working within this constraint can encourage children to learn to prioritise and organise. Steps to take to help them along the process include:
- Consider your time frame
Does this cohort only have a few weeks or months working on the beds? In this case, you’ll need to focus on plants or crops which mature quickly – like radishes and salad leaves – or flowers like nigella, calendula, or nasturtium. Alternatively, if they are setting out planting for the foreseeable future, you’ll want them to consider the plants they’re placing together and how they’ll interact – will one light-loving flower get overwhelmed by a quick-growing, foliage-dense neighbour?
- Draw up a plan
This is a great way to bring other skill sets to the garden, as children can get creative with their designs.
- Consider what seeds or plants you’ll make available
There is obviously a cost factor here, and also there’s the fact that some seeds need a little help to germinate in UK weather. Choose native options to have a better chance of success without having to resort to greenhouses.
- Consider accessibility beyond the beds themselves
Having wheelchair-friendly planters is vital to make gardening accessible to all, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Garden paths must be wide, stable, non-slip, and navigable enough for wheels or anyone with balance and mobility issues. They should also include space for wheelchair turning points and should join up key areas to allow easy movement around the area. Ensure that any level changes are managed with the addition of ramp access, and provide handrails wherever appropriate.
The tools provided should be appropriate. Adaptable, lightweight tools are available, and these will be easier to use for those with compromised hand and arm strength.
Reasons to choose raised beds
Cultivating swathes of land simply isn’t an option for many school providers, and bringing a raised bed into a non-natural environment (such as a concrete playground) may be the only option. If you are lucky enough to have access to land, there are still reasons why raised beds and planters could be the way forward:
Because you’re bringing gardening up off the floor, whether via raised beds or wheelchair-accessible planters, you’re making the process easier and more comfortable for most people to engage with, as children stand in front or sit on the side of a planter, rather than kneel on the floor. This is again particularly important for any students who have difficulties with mobility or balance.
Planters can be used as half-walls, effectively breaking up larger spaces into more manageable, usable zones. Our raised bed corner planter with bench is a great example of this; it creates a more intimate zone within the benched area, which can be made even more private or intimate through the planting choices made (tall swishy grasses, for example, maintain easy visual access to the area but create the feeling of a more private, zoned space. Planting can even be used for screening off more unsightly areas, such as bins). Raised beds make an attractive addition to a space, bringing colour and sometimes scent too to areas that are often stripped back.
Creating some control
Gardening can be a messy business! Some school environments with limited space might consider it too difficult to garden beds, as escaped soil gets traipsed through classrooms and into carpets. With raised beds, the soil is controlled. It is also easier to maintain the quality of the soil, regardless of the soil surrounding you – beds full of rubble will be difficult to work with, just as lime-heavy or clayey soils have their own challenges. With raised beds, you add the type of soil you want, meaning that you can invest in quality compost to get much better results.
Where to site your raised planter projects
There are several considerations to bear in mind if you have the choice of where to site your raised planters.
Choose somewhere with enough sunshine to grow your plants. That may seem obvious. But choosing somewhere which also offers dappled shade, or nearby shade, is also great for keeping delicate skin safe as well as being the optimal conditions for your plants to thrive in. Choose a relatively sheltered area, too, because high winds whipping through will cause your plants to suffer.
Think about seating. Gardening is quite physical; try to choose a site with a nearby sitting area so that little workers can take a break when it all gets too much.
Consider what you plan to do, and what that will necessitate. Will it be helpful to combine your raised planting with a table, to provide the children with extra space to sow seeds? Where could you set up a water butt, to gather rainwater for watering your raised beds? On this point, it’s worth remembering that raised beds will always dry out quicker than the ground, so will need to be watered more often, especially through hot and dry periods. Remember that your raised bed will likely have drainage holes in the bottom, so consider the surface you’ll mount it on and how freely water should flow from it.
What to grow
The world is your oyster here, but it’s worth keeping your plans to smaller plants that don’t naturally spread prolifically. Annual bedding plants like pansies, marigolds, and geraniums offer colour. Food crops like lettuces, radishes, carrots, chives, and herbs are great, as they can also be eaten. Small shrubs like hebe, rosemary, and lavender may be a good solution if you plan to only plant your planters once, and then let them grow. Bulbs, meanwhile, are a most welcome burst of springtime colour. Snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses, muscari, and tulips are all great bulbs for planters, and can be planted in layers (depending on when they bloom) to maximise the limited space available.
If you think that having access to a school garden would enrich your children’s education environment, and help them to develop their understanding of the natural world, get in touch with Landscapes for Learning today. We can discuss the best raised bed and sleeper planter options to suit your project.