The children who come through Providence House—a crisis nursery providing free, voluntary emergency shelter to children living in crisis situations where they are at risk of abuse or neglect—have enough going on in their worlds without having a quiet, relaxing place to think, reflect, or just be alone.
Last week, Valley City-based landscape tool manufacturer Troy-Bilt sent six gardening experts to Providence House on W. 32nd Street to help revive the facility’s sensory garden as a place where even the youngest clients can take a peaceful time out.
The experts took a triangular plot of land with raised beds zig-zagging around the garden and transformed it into an inviting haven for the children—as well as staff and volunteers—to stimulate each of the five senses.
“This is a really great opportunity for our kids and parents,” says Kaylee Quanbeck, Providence House's events and marketing coordinator. “When parents bring their kids here, they are dropping off and trusting us with their most precious possessions. We always want it to feel like home, not like an institution. These will be the touches that make a difference.”
The gardeners installed latticework fencing; planted fragrant, colorful plants like lilac, lilies, and herbs; and mixed them with edible tomato, pepper, and onion plants.
“We tell them, 'This is a pizza garden,'” says Barb Roueche, Troy-Bilt brand manager. “Come out and pick your toppings.” The team also planted pumpkins, so this fall, kids will have access to a fun arts-and-crafts project.
Nothing in the sensory garden has thorns, burrs, or anything else that can potentially harm the children, and everything is deer-resistant, according to Roueche, but they also kept the staff in mind with the plantings.
“Everything we planted are perennial, so they will come back every year,” she says. “We didn’t want it to have too much maintenance, so we were careful on what we chose so that we didn’t add to the Providence House staff [responsibilities].”
Additionally, Roueche notes a small area in the back corner of the garden that had gone particularly unattended. The group took that patch and installed a bird bath, Adirondack chairs, and pollinator plants to attract birds and butterflies—creating a reflective space in the sensory garden.
“You are one step removed from what’s actually going on,” says Roueche. “I would guess there are times when you need alone time, but you don’t really want to be alone. This is a place to regroup and get a little quiet time.”
The transformation took about four hours, but Roueche was just happy any planting was completed, given the wet weather Cleveland has been having. “After about a week of watching the weather reports and wondering if we would be able to plant anything at all, or if we’d be under water, I don’t think we could have scripted it better,” she says.
Troy-Bilt has used its group of national experts—Erin Spain, Serena Appiah of Thrift Diving, Sarah Fogle of Ugly Duckling House, Eric Rochow of GardenFork, Mary Nielson of The House that Lars Built, and Rochelle Greayer of Pith + Vigor —for the past eight years on community gardening projects with organizations that need help maintaining and beautifying their outdoor spaces.
Quanbeck says the kids at Providence House love the new sensory garden. “They were looking at all the different kinds of plants and the bird bath,” she says. “One of our staff members commented on how calming it was for some of our kids."