Month: March 2019

About the Garden

The garden is my attempt to rectify, in small measure, what I see as a lack of purposeful outdoor play that is built around the senses. The outdoor spaces that I see our children play in contain predominantly plastic or metal single-use play equipment, directed at motor development. The surface of these commercial play spaces tends to be dirt, recycled rubber, or maybe wood chips with little, other than maybe mold or mildew, living in them. What in these environments engages the senses? Where are the plants, bugs, worms, and other living things that I played with as a child? Where is the diversity of materials that developing children need to touch, taste, smell, see and hear?

It is these sensory experiences that create neural connections in the brain and that are critical for development. My fear is that, with so much time spent inside or even outside on pavement or sterile surfaces, children aren’t getting the neural stimulation they need. Nature provides a plethora of different textures, colors, shapes, smells, sights, etc. to engage every sense a hundred times over. This is where neural stimulation and brain development really occur.

Young children learn primarily through their senses and a multitude of studies have demonstrated a correlation between sensory stimulation and brain development. We know now that a critical “window” exists, from birth to approximately age seven, during which many neural connections are formed. The greater the variety and scope of stimulation, the more complex the brain structure.

What concerns me is the lack of variety and scope of stimulation in outdoor spaces where our children play. So many parents today work and their children spend those hours in daycare, then nursery school, then preschool, then elementary school, etc. Are these institutions providing access to nature? Are we providing it for our children when we’re not at work? Don’t we want our children to have a relationship with nature for the simple love of nature?

Along with the cognitive benefits of nature, there are also well-documented benefits to children that include more confidence, higher self-esteem, and a greater ability to concentrate. These benefits of nature extend to all ages. Studies have shown that even looking out a window and seeing the color green creates a sense of calm. It is my opinion that we all need to get outside more, but not just outside, in nature.

Furthermore, especially in urban environments, nature must be made more accessible so that those who can’t afford to travel to a forest, woods, or botanical garden (due to finances, time constraints, or physical limitations) can share in the benefits of nature. Gardens on urban lots or in public spaces (even if all of the plants live in containers) are a relatively inexpensive means of providing nature to our community. The benefits of this small investment are huge and it is this tenant that began my journey with the Avery Point Cognitive Garden.

Site plan for the Children's Cognitive Garden at Avery Point
Site plan for the Children’s Cognitive Garden at Avery Point

Breaking Ground

Yesterday we broke ground with the installation of the waterfall.  Rob Townsend, owner of Aqua Scapes of Connecticut, spent the day teaching seniors from Ella T. Grasso Regional Vocational Technical High School how to create this beautiful water feature. The students came with shovels in hand and high spirits, making the day really fun and rewarding. Our local technical schools are so amazing! They teach our children through hands-on experience and I could see the willingness to learn, as well as the confidence in their own abilities, as they worked together building this structure. There was a lot of camaraderie and laughter which was also heartwarming.

Thanks to Rob for sharing his time and know-how with our youth, especially as he is getting busy with his pond cleaning/installation season.  It is volunteers like Rob, Larry Fritch, Department Head for the Bioscience Environmental Technology at Grasso, and his students, that make community projects like this possible. By the way, Larry and his students wholeheartedly embraced helping with the garden and will be doing the installation of the pollinator garden and meadow as well as helping to design both of them. It is so exciting to be actually moving into the building phase of the garden. We will be completing the falls sometime next week.  We’re still uploading the photos from yesterday so stay tuned!

  • Dig in! Official groundbreaking of the garden
    Dig in! Official groundbreaking of the garden

About Me

Annette Montoya, garden designer
I am a retiree and a veteran. I’m actually a combat veteran, which has allowed me to attend UConn under the GI Bill with a tuition waiver. I started off studying horticulture, discovered landscape architecture, and then found my passion designing children’s gardens. I created an individualized major: Landscape Design for Cognitive Development, which takes a multi-disciplinary approach to creating gardens for children, integrating the principals of developmental and cognitive psychology.

During the course of my studies, I have read numerous academic articles that advocate using a multi-disciplinary approach to create children’s gardens. How can one design a garden for a child if they don’t understand that child’s developmental needs? Multiply this by numerous children, at various stages of development, with a variety of developmental needs. In this case I would propose that, for the landscape professional, the “client” is the child rather than the one who holds the purse-strings.

I am also a mother, a step-mother, and a foster-mother. I care deeply for our children and for our earth. I believe that there is a critical need to get our children into nature and to bring nature closer to our children. The goals of this project are 1) to create a garden that encourages cognitive development and experiential learning through sensory stimulation and self-directed play; 2) to design a garden that is not only aesthetically pleasing but physically engaging; 3) to build a garden that is accessible, magical, and captivating to both the young and the young in spirit; and 4) to establish a garden that draws people outside and creates a lasting connection to nature and the community.

This blog is a means of bringing these goals into the public forum, to encourage readers to participate in the creation of this garden (even if they never step foot in it), and to entreat others to create similar spaces for their children in their own communities.

  • Annette Montoya
    Annette Montoya

Welcome to my Blog

I’m starting this blog as the installation of the garden begins, but the idea for the garden, the planning, and the preparation, have taken me on quite a journey this past several months. This journey is something I will detail in the first several posts.

This garden is being created for our children, that they may know nature and feel connected to it. In order to ensure that children become tomorrow’s stewards of our natural environment, we must create connections today. How can children love and protect nature if they don’t know it, know it only through a screen, or worse yet, fear it? And yet, while young children are the primary focus of this garden, it will be a place for everyone. The garden will be a place to find beauty, respite, healing, and whimsy, no matter your age or physical limitations. The garden is a gift, being built by many hands and many people who believe in the power of nature and the spirit of community.

But First, A Thank You
The gratitude that I feel toward those who have made it all possible is immense: From the UConn faculty who supported my vision of a cognitive garden, to those in the community who have offered materials, labor, creativity, and support, I am personally indebted. And to my friends and family who believe in me and continue to give me courage as I embark upon something at the far reaches of my capabilities and that challenges me as an individual, a gardener, and a designer.