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Therapeutic 'ability' garden in Boca Raton aims to help with job, life training

People learning skills through therapeutic horticulture
Posted at 11:42 AM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 17:50:00-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — A garden in Palm Beach County is giving new opportunities to people of all abilities.

Kimberli Swann designed the Boca Raton therapeutic "ability garden" located at the Jewish Association for Residential Care.

"An ability garden is a garden that no matter what your ability or disability is, you can garden with us," Swann said.

William Escobar, 41, said he's new to farming. The produce he brings to life is sold or prepared in the farm-to-table program at the garden.

"I feel close to nature, being outside," he said. "It calms me down quickly, relaxes me, the whole atmosphere, the sky, the things growing, the plants, the whole garden."

William Escobar, uses therapeutic "ability garden" in Boca Raton
William Escobar shares the array of benefits of using the community garden.

One of the special aspects of the garden is that the beds are all at different heights. It is meant to create an environment of inclusion.

"I like to water everything," Escobar said.

The garden is about more than just plants and produce. It's about skills that people gain through therapeutic horticulture.

"It's helped me more to interact with others more," Escobar said.

"Especially for our clients who have intellectual disabilities," explained Swann. "The ability to role reverse. Our clients are heavy recipients of care. There is always someone looking after their nutrition, medical, their clothing, and here in the garden, they are the caregivers."

It's also about job training.

"They are learning vocational skills, such as how to water plants, handle plants, how to plant the seeds just so with the hopes that they could get a job in the community, maybe at Home Depot watering the plants in the nursery," Swann said.

Kimberli Swann, designed the Boca Raton therapeutic "ability garden" located at the Jewish Association for Residential Care
Kimberli Swann shows off some of the bananas grown in the community garden.

Escobar said he would like to sell flowers at a garden store.

Swann said they also learn about fundamental employment skills, like how to communicate, how to ask questions. She called it a model for the nation when it comes to therapeutic gardens.

Swann said the garden doesn't grow unless you water and care for it, much like people of all abilities.

"When you take care of something and watch it grow from a seed to a cabbage, maybe you don't like cabbage, you will try this cabbage because you grew it," she said.

"(It) inspired gardening and a love of it for me," Escobar said. "The positivity."