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Students create new sensory garden at Wintec | Te Pūkenga City Campus

Wintec | Te Pūkenga Level 3 Landscape Construction students have been working on a new sensory garden project, transforming a boring bit of lawn into a relaxing and accessible space for all ākonga and kaimahi to enjoy. 

Image: Landscape Construction students L-R Kelly Keating and Fawn Sorensen-Lit.

The project is a collaboration between ākonga from Wintec | Te Pūkenga Centre for Health and Social Practice (CHASP) and Centre for Applied Science and Primary Industries (CASPI) with Occupational Therapy (OT) ākonga from Te Kura Whakaora Ngangahau | The School of Occupational Therapy, along with support and funding from the Wintec Property and Infrastructure team.

The idea came from a community development fieldwork project with OT ākonga and their supervisor Simon Leadley (senior lecturer), and Wintec’s Te Kete Manaaki team, who thought an accessible, relaxing, enjoyable space, with a sensory modulating affect which allowed people to connect to Te Taiao, would benefit the City Campus hustle and bustle and the hauroa/well-being of all ākonga and kaimahi who use it. 

“We were hoping that the mara kai/garden will provide a space where ākonga can feel comfortable as well as having a food/kai source. The mara kai can provide a chance to be reflective… can potentially open up new sources inspiration about vegetables and herbs for people to experiment cooking with… ākonga can connect with the mara kai space...a place for sensory well as connect with other people and create relationships… connect with the earth and the plants… and draw on all aspects of Te Whare Tapa Wha model of hauora taha wairua, taha tinana, taha hinengaro, and taha whānau.” Wintec | Te Pūkenga Garden Report (2021), Occupational Therapy ākonga.

The project involves the construction of a timber pergola, some raised and accessible planter boxes, a seating area, and a new path to connect existing access. You can find the garden at the end of Carpark C, Wintec City Campus. 

Max Ward, Wintec | Te Pūkenga Programme Coordinator Landscape Construction, said the project had been worked on by eight Level 3 Construction students.

“We were really wrapped to get this job because it covers several disciplines from their learning outcomes: timber works, hard landscaping, paving, irrigation, planting, and concrete work. The project started last year with CHASP wanting an accessible sensory garden, so we took that on and developed the concept to make it suit the learning outcomes for our students.

“It’s been so good. A lot of this work we could pre-cut at our site in the Hamilton Gardens. We premeasured and cut and assembled the pergola back in the yard at the gardens. Then we pulled it all apart and brought it here knowing it would fit together perfectly.”

Max said there was a permanent rosemary hedge planted along the side, but the rest of the plants were likely to change.

“For now, we’ve just planted our seasonal flower colour, but the idea is that it will be permanently planted with plants that trigger all our senses – touch, hearing, sight, smell and taste. For now, it’s just not quite the right time of year so that will be something future students will get to work on.”

Ward said the students had done “tremendously well”. 

“For us as tutors, it just couldn’t be better. The location is great, and it has all the elements in it that we need for our students. I’d say it’s one of the more successful projects that we’ve been involved with.” Ward said.

Landscape Construction students Kelly Keating and Fawn Sorensen-Litt have been working on the project since April.

The two ākonga are both completing their six-month Certificate in Level 3 Landscape Construction, and both said this was their favourite project they’ve worked on.

Fawn said the Certificate was a great way to learn the basics as well as the industry lingo.

“Our tutors let us do things wrong and then make us do it again. It’s a great way to learn. This has been our biggest project. We’ve done a few other small timber and concrete laying projects before this,” Fawn said.

Fawn said the project was based around trying to engage with all five senses while keeping it accessible to all.

“We wanted people who have to be in a wheelchair to be able to access the garden and activate their senses. There’s a part of the garden that is tall and a wheelchair can actually wheel right in and the person in it can actually interact with the garden.”

Kelly said the certificate was a way to get her foot in the door of the industry.

“I’ve really enjoyed the course. It’s almost finished now and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. If I was to go straight and try and get a job I feel like it would have been so hard.”

Kelly said the project had been a long process.

“We would stop often to learn the why about what we were doing, it’s not just learning how to build something, it’s learning why we do it that way too. The cool thing about this project is that we can bring our families here and show them what we’ve done because it’s in town and public. The other project we’ve done was in a staff only area at the Hamilton Gardens so we can’t really show off our work. It’s going to be cool to bring family or friends here to have a coffee.”

Landscape Construction is run as a strand of the Level 3 Certificate in Applied Horticulture, based at the Wintec | Te Pūkenga Hamilton Gardens Campus, but ākonga get to travel out and about undertaking projects all over the motu.

Students learn a wide variety of skills utilising different materials and techniques, to help them grow into future landscape industry leaders and innovators.

There is a new cohort about to start in July and there is still time to enrol.

Te Kura Whakaora Ngangahau / The School of Occupational Therapy offers a bachelor’s degree at Wintec and Otago Polytechnic sites. Amongst other tasks occupational therapists assess clients’ abilities and help them gain or regain skills. They work with a range of ages in a variety of environments and situations. These include helping children in schools with their learning needs; working with people who have had an illness, injury, or disability; and assisting those with mental health difficulties to participate in their everyday activities/occupations.  

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