Growing together through gardening

Exploring the benefits of therapeutic horticulture for people with cognitive disability residing in supported independent living accommodation.

Therapeutic gardening programs for people with disability are typically conceived of as one-off activity-based interventions, or take place in external locations to their living arrangements during programming times. While such an approach provides people with disability with an enjoyable activity to participate in, it rarely develops meaning or purpose in their lives as linked to their living environments.

Little is known about whether and how gardening opportunities within supported independent living (SIL) contexts contribute to the wellbeing of people with cognitive disabilities in residence. Therefore this project will explore SIL site gardens as a context for fostering resident wellbeing, belonging and for contributing to NDIS outcomes.

It will do this using a participatory approach that involves the researcher collaborating with residents in planning and establishing onsite gardens over an extedned period of time, while collecting data about their experiences using a range of accessible interview methods. The project will generate knowledge about whether SIL gardening fosters recognition of residents, builds social connections, enhances their felt sense of belonging, and contributes to their NDIS outcomes.

a photo of produce harevested from a garden   residents gardening together 

Preliminary findings show:

Gardens in supported independent living accommodation sites make houses feel more like homes. They enable residents to demonstrate their capacity and feel proud of their contributions to their own lives and others. 

Gardens demonstrate the service believes in the capacity of people with disability to contribute and the to their own lives and those around them.

Harvests in SIL sites are evidence of the hard work of the residents to care for their garden and become symbols of pride for what they have committed to achieving over the previous months of hard work. The produce becomes a contribution to the household and a driver to try new foods and eat well.

The gardens become spaces to congregate and talk between residents, staff, visitors and neighbours. Conversations might be deliberate and purposeful, or an opportunity for impromptu catch-ups. Front yard gardens provide a reason for residents to be more present in their streetscape and give neighbours an opportunity to get to know them.


Project funding through Southern Cross University DVC-Research Seed Grant and industry partnership with Aruma.

Aruma logo

Project lead:

Dr Kate Neale: 

Dr Kate Neale is a childhood studies and disability studies researcher with a particular interest in the therapeutic benefits of time spent in greenspaces. She specialises in ethical methodologies for involving kids, people with cognitive disability or vulnerable communities meaningfully in horticulture to foster esteem, wellbeing and belonging. Kate's work takes a sociological approach by considering not just the individual benefits of therapeutic horticulture, but also the role therapeutic horticulture has in fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion at a social or community level. She does this with a view to better understanding the potential impact horticulture can have on the social status of communities when their participation and presence is illuminated through horticulture.