Decatur, GA

Decatur Nature Therapy Nonprofit Created Accessible Garden

Synthia Stark

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In Decatur, Georgia, there are two wonderful women named Rachel Cochran and Wendy Battaglia. Both women realized that they needed to support people in the community, especially those who enjoy immersing themselves in nature and gardening.

How They Met

Rachel and Wendy first met one another at a horticultural therapy training program in Colorado. They were both going through their individual journeys when they connected over their love of horticultural therapy.

Both of them discovered that very few horticultural therapy programs existed in general. They also discovered that very few organizations had actually implemented such a program. Finally, they both realized that people with impaired mobility didn’t have many options on top of that either.

Together, they decided to work together to become business partners. They wanted to support, educate, and guide organizations and people to make therapeutic gardening programs and accessible garden spaces.

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The Backstory

While Rachel was finishing up her training in horticultural therapy in 2015, her daughter was in a car accident in front of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. Since then, the daughter has had some traumatic injuries.

Horticultural therapy helped Rachel make sense of the situation and helped her reflect on the impact this injury had on her, the daughter, and the rest of the family.

For example, gardening is a purposeful task where it gives you something to do, which makes you realize that you have a purpose, which then gives you self-confidence. Plus, plants represent life, and taking care of lives is important.

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As for Wendy, Wendy realized that garden therapy can be incredibly lonely for some people. For example, if you have an injury or health condition, it can hard to do gardening on your own.

Basically, horticultural therapy can help some people meet other people similar to that first person. When a person realizes that they are not alone, then they feel better about themselves. Then, when you realize that others have similar goals to you, it encourages you to work harder and stronger.

Creating The Trellis Horticultural Therapy Alliance

In 2017, Rachel and Wendy founded the Trellis Horticultural Therapy Alliance, a nonprofit in Decatur, Georgia.

The Trellis Horticultural Therapy Alliance is a garden therapy program that can help people feel better, including those who have an illness, life-altering injuries, and other life circumstances. In other words, if you have any cognitive, emotional, mental, and/or physical challenges, this may be the place for you.

For example, many people are welcome to engage in the therapy, including people with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, stroke, developmental delays, depression, aging and so much more.

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The Purpose of Horticultural Therapy

The purpose of horticultural therapy is to help regrow a person’s social connection, provide clarity and purpose, and reduce one’s level of emotional isolation. If you think about it, it makes sense.

If you spend time with nature, you are more focused on the immediate present, and you’re not so worried about the stressors of the world. Plus, you get to enjoy the fruits of your labours, by seeing your plants grow. Tending to a plant takes a lot of work, but it can be fun as well.

Many people, including those with many barriers, may feel more disconnected from nature due to the limited opportunities for them to get out and about easily. For example, some gardens don’t have options for wheelchair-bound people to wheel around easily.

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The Safe Space of Trellis

The garden therapy offered at Trellis is a safe and supportive environment that encourages and empowers people to engage in hands-on learning, regardless of age and ability.

Plus, Rachel and Wendy are trained as horticultural therapists. They can help improve the cognitive, mental, and/or physical health of different people, especially as these individuals work through their unique situations and challenges.

Some Benefits

With gardening-related pursuits, fine motor skills are practiced, like scooping the soil, potting plants, and carefully planting seeds. Plus, there’s the self-discipline aspect to water the plants reliably — otherwise, the plants will not fully grow.

This type of therapy is fascinating, especially if we consider that this is practical skills training. It is something that you can take with you out into the real world, especially as you continue to develop independence.

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Given world events, more and more people are realizing the importance of nature and might be spending more time gardening. Staying inside all the time is dreary, and gardening is a safe outdoor activity, especially in your own backyard.

If someone was in a wheelchair and homebound, non-profit organizations like Trellis sound like a reasonable option to find similar people who also enjoy nature.

The New Wheelchair Accessible Garden

Recently, both Rachel and Wendy been working on a garden over at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia. It is Atlanta’s first-ever wheelchair-accessible garden.

Callanwolde Fine Arts Center is a community arts conservatory with a 12-acre campus. It’s own by the non-profit called the Callanwolde Foundation. The Callanwolde Foundation works hard to develop, restore, and preserve the Callanwolde Estate to be a top-tier cultural and public arts center.

You can do many things at Callanwold, including jewelry making, pottery, photography, and painting. There’s also a big greenhouse and a place for the gardens and flower beds. They were the ones who reached out to Trellis a few years ago to help them better use their nature facilities.

The Hard Work Behind This

Back in September 2020, two raised garden beds were built by Rachel and some hard-working volunteers. Even the Atlanta Botanical Garden chipped in and built $500 work of lumber for the garden itself.

For those with wheelchairs, the issue is often the surface of the garden. Most gardens have wood chips in them, and you can’t exactly wheel through these gardens. Instead, you need a better surface like crushed slate, concrete, pavers, or granite. These ones won’t get stuck to the wheelchairs.

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Callanwolde’s Executive Director, Andrew Keenan, reported having a financial aid fund and has since extended this fund to the horticultural therapy program to help out Trellis, to make it free for those with disabilities.

Final Thoughts

Overall, here’s to hoping that more and more people learn to value the power of nature. Perhaps gardens like these will unite communities together, especially for those who struggle with mobility. For those in places like Decatur, Georgia, and Atlanta, Georgia, I’m sure that some people have benefited greatly from Trellis and Callanwolde, respectively.

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