Unique Occupational Therapy Garden at Colorado State University Designed for Users of All Ages and Abilities

Colorado State University’s newest garden is designed to be enjoyed – and used – by all people, regardless of age or ability.

The Occupational Therapy Garden serves as an outdoor teaching and learning laboratory for Colorado State’s award-winning Department of Occupational Therapy. Located south of the Occupational Therapy Building on campus, it features paths surfaced with different materials, garden beds of varying heights and work areas accessible to users with differing abilities.

"Occupational therapy supports the participation of people in everyday occupations despite the effects of a disability illness, or injury," said Karen Spencer, associate professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State. "Occupations can be as simple as brushing your teeth or as complex as driving a car, tending your garden, caring for your children or doing your job."

Up to 80 percent of Americans participate in gardening in some form, Spencer said. The Occupational Therapy Garden will enable students to learn hands-on how gardening can be used by occupational therapists as a therapeutic activity for people with disabilities.

"Gardening can have real meaning to people and it is an activity that is readily adapted to different interests, abilities and needs," Spencer said. "The Occupational Therapy Garden is meant to be an active garden that supports gardeners of all ages and abilities."

Unique features of the garden include:

–     a compact layout that supports mobility and reduces energy demands;

–     sunny and shady areas to accommodate different user needs;

–     A "sensory garden" with plants that can be enjoyed through the senses of touch and smell;

–     garden beds set at different heights to accommodate users sitting in wheelchairs or standing up;

–     a raised, grassy area for people who want to move independently from their wheelchair to sitting on the grass; and

–     paths made of different materials including crushed gravel, flagstone and smooth and textured concrete that allow users to explore moving on different surfaces and to differentiate between garden areas when vision is limited.

Funded with $50,000 from a Colorado Commission on Higher Education Program of Excellence grant awarded in 2001, the garden was planned using universal design principles. Students and faculty from the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture helped build the garden last spring.

"It was a real collaborative effort with a good purpose," said Fred Haberecht, a landscape architect with Facilities Management who played an important role in designing the garden.

Spencer hopes using the garden as a laboratory will help students learn how to eliminate barriers that impact human participation in daily life tasks. She said the department plans to not only use the garden as a part of the occupational therapy program, but also develop collaborative outreach programs with a variety of university and community partners. University students, who played a big role in developing the garden, will continue to be involved during program planning and maintenance.

Colorado State’s Department of Occupational Therapy was ranked seventh in the nation this year by U.S. News and World Report, up three places from the 2001 survey. It has approximately 120 graduate students.

For more information about the garden, contact Spencer at (970) 491-5016.