Growing together through gardening – Supported Independent Living (SIL) site gardens as spaces for wellbeing and connection for people with cognitive disability

Dr Kate Neale1, Ms Elyce Shearer2, Ms Danielle Notara2

1Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University, Gold Coast, Australia, 2Aruma, Gold Coast, Australia

Therapeutic gardening programs for people with intellectual disability often take a biomedical approach by using horticulture as an intervention tool to “counter or improve” disability (Kim, Park, Song, and Son, 2010). Programs also tend to be run in out-of-home contexts requiring people to visit sites during set agreed times. This project challenges the deficiency-focused biomedical approach by instead adopting a social model of disability and explores the benefits for people with intellectual disability in having regular, free access to shared garden spaces surrounding their home environments.

Gardens were established and maintained within three SIL sites in mid to late 2020. Data was collected through informal interviews with residents (who are people living with intellectual disability), observations during unstructured garden activities, by listening to the feedback provided by support staff within the sites and visiting family members to the gardens.

The findings demonstrate that time spent in the garden and its resulting harvests create conditions for wellbeing and belonging. The garden became a space of retreat, congregation, connection and participation. It was evident that opportunities within the garden also contributed to residents’ NDIS goals.

SIL site gardens improve the quality of living in SIL, diversify the kind of activities and support that can be offered in these locations and make the most of expertise staff already possess from their previous professions or experience (for example in landscaping, gardening or nutrition), enabling an innovative support offering for customers that enhances wellbeing and interpersonal connections.


Dr Kate Neale is a researcher with a particular interest in the individual, social and societal benefits of time spent in greenspaces and gardening people with disability. Kate’s work takes a rights-based approach to ethical, accessible and meaningful opportunities for their participation in programs and research on the topic.