2nd Prison Garden Installed!

Working with Insight Gardening Program and SWA Group, we worked with inmates and correctional officers to install a second prison garden! This project was at the Correctional Medical Facility in Vacaville, and had its own unique challenges. As in all prison gardens these days, it is important not to obstruct any views from guard towers. Unique to this facility is the fact that many inmates are disabled, so access to the plants had to be carefully planned so that all inmates could interact with their garden.

Landscape architect Emily Schlickman and designer Shaun Loomis (SWA) came up with the ingenious idea of coming to one of the prison classes with scaled printouts of the space, as well as scaled cutouts of plants, planter beds, benches, and other materials we could incorporate into the garden. We then discussed ideas and goals, broke into groups, and began collaboratively coming up with layout ideas.

This produced a few clear consensuses that we used for the final design: a central gathering space, breakaway areas, and easy access for wheelchairs. Plants with fragrances that would support butterflies and birds were also desired.

We ended up with an ameboid layout, as shown below: 

Ameboid layout for garden at Correctional Medical Facility

Ameboid layout for garden at Correctional Medical Facility

The install went incredibly smooth, thanks to hard work by Amy Boyer, who directs the Insight Gardening Program at Solano Prison as well as the Correctional Medical Facility. Her many trips to Woodland Irrigation Supply paid off, as we had to work both with very low pressure as well as concerns that more conventional irrigation designs could be turned into weapons or used as rope for climbing over walls.

As with the Solano Prison install, the inmates were enthusiastic, patient (especially with the square shovels and dull trowels he had to dig into the hard soil) and eager to learn and help. The prison staff was tremendously helpful as well, setting up the below-ground irrigation piping, valve and filter regulator, grow beds, and even spreading the tons of road base and decomposed granite according to the plan. When we showed up, all we had to do was set up the drip irrigation system, plant the plants, and spread the mulch (still a lot!).

We ended up with a beautiful garden that brings pride and peace to everyone who helped make it a reality. We used almost entirely native plants as well as some edibles in the planter beds. We saw a monarch while we were planting, and upon returning for a quality check observed native bees, birds and a variety of butterflies enjoying the space with us. We are working on a proposal for seeding the area surrounding the ameboid garden with native grasses and wildflowers this fall, which I am thrilled about. This meadow would take habitat to the next level, and offer endless opportunities for learning about plants and insects, observing wildlife, and meditating with the hustle and bustle of nature, which must feel as hectic and stressful to the plants and insects involved as our hustle and bustle feels to us.

Thanks to everyone involved. Insight Gardening Program is a wonderful program that deserves broad support. It helps prisoners connect with themselves and the world in a calming way by looking at life somewhat like a garden that needs cultivation, care and patience. We are looking forward to another install in Stockton, hopefully as soon as this fall. Stay tuned!


IGP: http://insightgardenprogram.org

Press: http://www.thereporter.com/article/NG/20160520/NEWS/160529987 (beware of one error: this is not the biggest prison garden in the US; it's the biggest one in IGP history)

CSP Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeisFt9_vMs