By Annie Napier


I recent had the privilege of “getting dirty in the garden” with a youth group to give the gift of gardening to a shelter that provides safe, temporary housing for women and their children who have been victimized by stalking or domestic or sexual violence.  My half-sister and friend is a “Forester”, a member of an insurance company that allows their members to plan local activities for their families and other Foresters members. Foresters Community Grants provides up to $2,500 in funding, as well as tools and resources to help ensure that volunteer opportunities are successful.

Of course, the hard part of this was all completed by my sister…the grant writing, the planning, the shopping and the back breaking unloading that was done with nothing but the desire to serve others with love in her heart. I am honored to know and serve beside her and her family.



Therapeutic horticulture is happening on several levels here:

  1. Residents will have access to gardening independently (a mother or a mother and her children), or
  2. During interactions with other families residing at the shelter
  3. Advocates at the shelter seek to return children to the focus of attention.  Children are invited to use play as a way of communicating feelings and are accepted as they do so.
  4. The employees and volunteers providing support and hope after these traumatic situations have access to a restorative environment that helps them feel “away”.
  5. For mothers/women–the (shelter-defined) work is to bolster self concepts, develop coping skills, and strengthen their ability to parent in stressful situations.
  6. I can personally think of a million more things the mothers are likely working on:
    1. Promote better breathing, slowing down heart rates and blood pressure
    2. Increasing sleep quality
    3. Distraction from pain
    4. Using the 5 senses to promote grounding–to increase concentration and decrease racing thoughts
    5. My personal prayer and hope is for God to draw them nearer and bless them during this time in the garden–literally a gazillion more things can be meditated on but none more important than one’s soul. No better way for me to do that than when I’m gettin dirty.

My sister was a super sleuth and found a couple of cedar 4×4 raised beds on clearance and I am a PRO at rampaging the “SAVE US!!!” aisles for the perfect perennial players!  I chose perennials because the shelter specifically asked my sister for a garden.  I wanted to give them a garden that would last with lots of sun loving, drought tolerant plants that will yield them great blooms for flower arranging, crafts, smells, touch, taste, and attracting pollinators!  They never know when they’ll get to ask for assistance with gardening again, so I want to set them up for long term success! I also left with them a book on perennial gardening, all the identification tags with their respective plants, and vegetable seeds with a detailed catalog of how and when to plant.

I made sure to choose a level site that was clear of wires and tree roots.  We had lots of great garden helpers and they were so willing and able to:

  • secure the boards with screws.  After sliding the cedar planks into the ready-made grooves the boards were still unstable.
  • remove weeds from the ground.  I got to teach them how to use a hoe and they preferred it over the shovel.
  • stapled landscape fabric 3-5″ up the base board
  • filled with potting soil (you can find great online calculators  to help you determine how much soil you’ll need).


For the deeper bed we sunk the 4×4 posts into the ground,you’ll need post hole diggers for that, then put in a foundation of coarse gravel, and then pebbles, then fill the remainder with potting soil.

Why build different sizes of beds? Well, all plants are not created alike! There are different types and sizes of roots. Here’s a handy chart (I found information easily on


Shallow Rooting
12″ – 18″

Medium Rooting
18″ – 24″

Deep Rooting
24″ – 36″+

     Arugula      Beans, dry      Artichokes
     Broccoli      Beans, pole      Asparagus
     Brussels sprouts      Beans, snap      Beans, lima
     Cabbage      Beets      Okra
     Cauliflower      Canteloupe      Parsnips
     Celery      Carrots      Pumpkins
     Chinese cabbage      Chard      Rhubarb
     Corn      Cucumber      Squash, winter
     Endive      Eggplant      Sweet potatoes
     Garlic      Kale      Tomatoes
     Kohlrabi, Bok Choy      Peas      Watermelon
     Lettuce      Peppers  
     Onions, Leeks, Chives      Rutabagas  
     Potatoes      Squash, summer  
     Radishes      Turnips  

After a sweet family helped plant the new plants, we watered in well (the toddler LOVED this part) and gave directions to staff on how to water well (make sure your whole finger gets wet when you stick it into the soil!) at least every other day in the morning for the next two weeks.


I am eager to check in with them to see how it’s going and hear about your green and dirty adventures!

Get into some soil this week.

Love and sunshine,

2 Responses to Getting Dirty–Giving Green
  1. Bless your heart for giving them a garden of hope. “Love and sunshine” – that describes you perfectly. This shelter is one of my favorite non-profits. Speaks directly to my heart. thank you!!!

  2. Jennie,

    I’m thinking of going through their training program so I can work out there consistently. Wanna join me? 🙂

    Thanks for being the first commentor on our blog! We are aiming to write at least twice a month–watch out for my next one at the end of August, it will be about memory care HT activities!

    Happy weeding and watering!
    OH MY aren’t the hibiscus happy this week!



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