Introducing the Therapeutic Healing Powers of Gardening to Individuals with Disabilities

By Published On: June 27, 2022
Joey's Place, a brick building with plants Gardens Grow

June 27, 2022, Colorado Springs, CO – Gardening is proven to reduce stress, tension, and anxiety.  “Our clients interact with big smiles and look forward to gardening every day, where in the beginning they were hesitant and not sure,” says Julie Hudak, SKSF Horticulture Program Coordinator. It’s finally summer and Special Kids Special Families (SKSF) is busy developing their therapy gardens for adults and children with developmental disabilities that attend their programs.  With a grant award received earlier in the year from the Colorado Garden Foundation, SKSF has plans to continue to build and grow their new Social and Therapeutic Horticulture program.  “When this project first started, many of our clients were not excited to work in the soil and get their hands dirty.  They would often refuse or would ask to wear gloves.  With the patience and encouragement of then volunteer Julie Hudak, the clients are now engaged and love to help. There is no longer a hesitation, and they look forward to working in the garden,” says Adult Services Program Director, Dionna Lanich.

Therapeutic horticulture benefits individuals with disabilities in improving their emotional, cognitive, and sensory motor functioning along with increasing social well-being and overall mood.  But what makes these gardens “therapeutic”?  SKSF has incorporated wide paths and entrances for wheelchair access, built a fence, raised garden beds and vertical wall features with chimes and whirly winds where clients can use all their senses to reach, touch, and feel the soil and plants.  The boundaries are well defined, and the plant selection is based on color, texture and fragrance using a full range of senses to engage the clients.  Future plans include areas for seating, a shaded gazebo and planting features that are accessible.  They created a new wall mural at the Adult Services garden with the name “Our Place” which incorporates a team effort in not only developing the gardens but maintaining them. The intent is to feel a special unity in the little patch of earth they’ve created and to know it’s a calm place to feel at peace with each other.  At Zach’s Place childcare center, plans are to extend the garden fence and create a mud kitchen, a water play area, a music wall and drip system. Children learn about plants, seed growth, and really enjoy seeing the plants grow larger throughout the summer.

When weather is not ideal, program participants work on indoor garden activities which include learning how to properly maintain an indoor herb garden, pressing fresh flowers into air dry clay, checking a moisture meter daily for watering needs, propagation of various plants, and working on growing plants in various mediums (soil, water, moss, etc..).  

Julie Hudak has been instrumental in not only coming up with the idea of a gardening for SKSF clients, but physically putting in hundreds of volunteer hours and donations along with her family planning the gardens, putting up fences, creating garden beds, planting seeds, and maintenance. “When the clients tend the gardens, you see improvement in their self-esteem, social skills, coping, and problems solving skills. They are calmer and you can see they are visually happier,” says Julie.  Once the fruits of their labor have come full circle, clients will be taught how to pick fruits and vegetables and use them to prepare foods in the facility’s kitchen.

Special Kids Special Families is excited about this project and welcomes any donations of soil, mulch, pots, and gardening tools as well as volunteers to assist in maintaining and upkeep.  If interested, contact the SKSF Volunteer Coordinator at

About Special Kids Special Families (SKSF): a non-profit umbrella organization with several unique programs designed to support people with disabilities of all ages from early childhood through adult as well as their families and caregivers. SKSF offers several programs including:

  • Child and Family Services which encompass Zach’s Place childcare and respite center;
  • Adult Services offering day programs and Host Home placement for adults;
  • SKSF foster and adoption services for children with disabilities and special needs;
  • Behavioral Health services for individuals of all abilities and ages.

For more information about SKSF programs, upcoming events and ways you can help visit online at

PHOTOS (approved & provided by Special Kids Special Families)