Tuesday, August 17, 2010

WELCOME to ACCESSIBLE GARDENS FOR ALL -- Building community gardens that are accessible to all people

Patricia and her longtime caregiver, Sharon, 
at the Accessible Garden at Brookfield Farm, Amherst, MA.
   It started with a simple need and a desire -- to be able to go together to the farm with our daughter, Patricia, and for her to have the opportunity to explore the farm as other children did. 
Brookfield Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, is a truly lovely place and is beloved by many in the community (I'll talk more about Brookfield Farm in a later post). It is a Community Supported Agriculture farm that our family was eager to join when we first moved to Amherst. But it was, as most farms are, largely inaccessible to someone who uses a wheelchair or has any physical or mobility impairment.
    I'm Theresa Vincent, mother of Patricia, who was the inspiration for The Accessible Garden at Brookfield Farm. I am not here with any professional expertise in gardening or accessible design and planning. I’m a parent, and a member of a local community, and I’m here because I want to join with others who are interested in making our communities more accessible and welcoming for our children with disabilities, our families, and for all.
Theresa & Patricia, FCSN Conference, Boston, MA. Feb. 2005
   The last twenty one years of my life were largely defined as the mother of Patricia – the one with the bright smile and a mass of dark brown curls that we all envied! She had one of the strongest and most resilient spirits that I have ever known, with a capacity to reach people and change their lives just by her being and what she called forth in others.
    She was born with cerebral palsy and a long list of what I call –“the words you learn to live with” –  dysgenesis of the corpus callossum, grand mal and petit mal seizures, spastic quadriplegia, blindness, deafness, scoliosis, risk of aspiration, etc. But Patricia taught us, and we learned that this list alone would not define her.
Patricia and family enjoying the beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island. P is using a beach wheelchair that was free for public use at the beach. Thanks, Rhode Island!
    I could tell you stories of how she thoroughly enjoyed going to the movies and how she loved her friend Jenny and how Jenny loved her. Or I could tell you of when her Dad first had the idea of taking her skiing and my response to him was -- are you out of your mind??? But go skiing, she did -- for two winters! And I can tell you of how it made her so happy to go sailing every summer for the last four years on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, and also about how she cared for others by raising money to buy Christmas presents for children with multiple disabilities in the foster care system. So many other stories . . .  Perhaps it would also be a story about a smile, or the soft touch of her fingers in my hand, or that particular expression on her face that only your child has.
    Patricia passed away in 2008. I would give anything for her to be here, showing you the accessible garden that she helped build. But perhaps she is in a way… What I do know is that we want to continue what she helped create -- that this small, simple garden that was built not only  in response to her needs, but in the spirit of what she opened our eyes to – that a world that was open and welcoming to all is a world that benefits each and all of us. This idea, in the form of a garden for everyone is something that we would like to see grow and bloom in as many places as possible…
Community gathering for opening of the Accessible Garden


  1. Congratulations Theresa! Beautiful blog! Useful info and wonderful stories. Tell us more!

  2. Thank you for bringing this all to light. I am a gardener also, and this is truly inspiring.

  3. Thanks for visiting the site, Dorothy. It's a different kind of wonderful to have someone who doesn't know us come to the site and appreciate it. Best wishes, Theresa

  4. Congratulations and THANK YOU, Therese, for inviting me into this beautiful world and I salute your strength and spirit! Love, Regina

  5. The "componants" part of this blog very clearly explains, visually and text-wise, the many and varied ways a garden can be accessible to ANYONE. People who have been reluctant to visit a garden due to various physical/emotional conditions may become life-long participants of some favored aspect of gardening, or allow them to appreciate nature,or make new friends(plants, birds, insects, or people!) Wendy