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Aesthetic Design + Accessibility + Forest Garden; Zone 5b

 
Posts: 16
Location: Zone 5a,5b,6a - Missouri
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I would like any/all ideas and input into this concept.  I am great at grunt work, terrible at design.  Bottom line is I need all the items below to work in a place that is still my home.  I know what I want the end result to be but not quite how to get there.


Property#1
I want to create a forest garden on roughly 4 acres of land that is aesthetically beautiful, useful for respite (like Sarah Duke in Raleigh/Durham), and accessible/workable for children and adults with special needs.  My goal is to have a fenced in acreage for families of special needs children to be able to come and have some respite in safety (so the children don't run away).  I would also like to create a program where these kids / young adults can learn a skill in caring for the land, perhaps growing produce or flowers and selling at the market... something more fulfilling than bagging groceries in a store where both the people they work with and for treat them like they are invisible. At the very least, these families can come for a day of relaxation and pick whatever they need or want to eat or decorate their home.  My daughter is one of those children and I have a vested interest in seeing this project proceed but I know I can't do this alone.

I'm a single parent of 2 girls, both with autism.  One is high functioning - basically quirky with a few extra communication twists; and the other will never be able to live independently due to autism and Prader-Willi syndrome.  I also have some physical limitations - mostly of the old and cranky variety.  I'm 54, limited on what I am supposed to lift by 35# pretty much permanently although I push it quite a bit, and get exhausted easily.  I have limited time to work on the project due to the amount of time the day to day care of my girls takes up - especially right now in the middle of virtual schooling.

If all works out the way I would like, after I die the land will either be sold for money for my youngest to be able to be cared for in a quality group home with cameras for her safety OR the house will be converted into a group home where she can live permanently with a caretaker.  The house itself is older, but with Missouri homes it has a basement with a full bathroom, separate entry and can be modified easily later on for 3 more small bedrooms bringing the total to 6.

The property has a large flat front lawn with mature shade trees along one side (good for lawn and outside games, picnics, wheelchairs, etc).  The gravel driveway to the house has crabapples along the side of varying sizes. The back and side of the land is hilly, with a pond on one side.  There are currently 4 apple, 2 pear and 1 walnut tree, oak, magnolia, maple, crepe myrtle, pine, cedar, ash trees that I'm aware of.  There are hydrangeas, flowering tulip, dogwoods, lilacs, holly.

There is an access road that runs behind the property, technically on my property, that has a long flat space to one side that is our vegetable garden theoretically.  So far I've grown mondo grass, tomatoes and okra there.  I have a raspberry plant, 3 blueberries, and there are some thornless blackberries (Thomson I think)  that I will try to plant somewhere this spring.

On one side of the hill there is a natural "stream" that happens when it rains.  I'd like to make this into a sort of waterfall going down the hill, dry creek bed when not raining, but not sure if this is a good idea or not.  
I do not want paved paths (meaning poured concrete or asphalt, etc) but I'm not opposed to paths in general.

Property #2: Stretch Goal
My parents have about half an acre of flat land that is over a natural swale.  My mother likes the wide open green, but the elm trees on it are dying or dead and she now only has one tree on the property, but some along the sides that belong to the neighbors.  She is all about neat and orderly.  She likes to garden and has her garden (and my blackberries) in her yard at the back for now.  Her yard is actually more suitable for a Forest Garden, IMO, easier to work, etc.  But she is not as interested in what will happen 10-20 years down the road as she is in the "right now" - she will be 81 this year.  She wants to enjoy her yard, see a lot of green, but be outside and garden.  I think if I could do some quickly producing plants that look good I could slowly change her mind, but I also want to create a space she loves.  


Thank you in advance for any ideas, input, pros, cons, ways to help fund it or get it to pay for itself.
 
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Just a few ideas. Four acres is a lot to develop and then keep up with, I would suggest starting with a smaller section and add more areas once you see that the work and maintenance is doable. Some of the choices you make now will affect the amount of upkeep required, so keep that in mind as you plan.

I am unsure if you need a fence for safety reasons, but fences that most would find aesthetically beautiful are rather expensive. You may see if you can find some shrubs that you could use as a living hedge as an attractive fence, often state nursery’s have trees and shrubs at very reasonable prices, look at other nearby states if yours doesn’t have just what you are looking for.

Wood chips can usually be had for free from arborists, consider those as an inexpensive pathway material. Probably not the best for wheeled mobility equipment, a cut short lawn may be the best non-paved surface for that.

A dry creek bed with natural stone would be a beautiful feature, but you may want to have that out of the way or avoid as it would be difficult for someone with mobility issues to traverse.
 
Laurie St Thomas
Posts: 16
Location: Zone 5a,5b,6a - Missouri
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Thank you for your feedback. It is a huge, long term project and dividing it up in pieces made me think of literally dividing up the land into quadrants and working it that way.  I was wondering if I should plant trees first and then divide it up into quadrants so the trees could get started.

I was able to get two huge truckloads of chips delivered to the back half of the property, and was using those to mulch around the existing fruit trees before it became too cold (for me) to continue.

I hadn't thought about using the state nursery for trees and shrubs, so I appreciate that tip.   One of the reasons for fencing would be for the children that are "runners" - it can be mentally exhausting to always be on high alert when your children are outside if you have a runner.  The idea behind using the property to provide some respite would be to offer an opportunity for a family to fully relax that their child could roam and explore without danger.

Perhaps I could start with just a portion of the property for the fencing, leaving the rest open.  That would also take care of the concern with the pond.  One of my girls who is high functioning uses the rock ledges, trees and shade by the edge of the pond as her calm down spot, but it could be dangerous for others with less cognition.  

I'd be interested in seeing any pictures or hearing about anyone who has ever done something like this.  I wonder if it might be better to create a non-profit and partner with other entities to do something similar with a smaller piece of land.  I'm just thinking out loud here.... It's something I wish I had for my own family many times over the years and since we moved here I can't stop thinking about creating it for others too.
 
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