For the Buzzell family, gardening is healing. Jinah is the mother of Logan and Lyla who are known as “The Buzz Tots.” They spend many hours together in the garden – their “jungle” – with bare feet in the soil, playing hide-and-seek, and giggling endlessly.
Ever since he was 2, Logan, now nearly 6, has taken a keen interest in the whole process of growing vegetables and flowers. Logan's favorite things to do in the garden are planting new seeds, transplanting new plants into the ground, and preparing the garden for spring by adding compost, digging, and evening the soil with his gardening tools. He also loves to harvest his veggies and fruits, especially luffa, which he loves to shake like a maraca and hear the sounds of the seeds inside.
“When he was younger, his favorite thing was to harvest, hug his harvest, then throw it like a ball. He did this with every single thing he picked. Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, luffa, name it. They all got hugs and thrown into the air!”
Engaging with social media has allowed the Buzzell’s to connect with other gardeners (and their gardens!).It has also been a way for Jinah to update friends and family on Logan’s medical journey. On his public Facebook and Instagram pages, she shares about his gardening adventures, fun activities with his sister, and his experience with a rare genetic disorder that has required many medical needs and complications.
“I loved that I could share his love and passion for nature and gardening, and at the same time spread awareness of all his diagnoses and advocate for him,” Jinah said. “He has always loved being outdoors, but the love of gardening was still surprising. When we first started gardening together, I realized it was a great way to incorporate his therapy needs and goals. He is in physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and feeding therapy. Gardening is a fun and effective way to include all these therapies in one.”
While frequent procedures and surgeries have been mentally and physically challenging for Logan, gardening has been of great benefit in helping him as well as Jinah heal and cope. “During his recovery, we like to sit in the garden and let nature do the healing,” she said. “From enduring the stress of being a caregiver and having to watch Logan go through everything the past 6 years, gardening is also my relief, my healer.”
For the Buzz tots, the benefits of gardening have been extensive. Both Lyla and Logan have gained improvements in their speech and coordination, as well as fine and gross motor skills. Logan, who has hypotonia (weakened muscle tone), is able to build and strengthen his muscle tone by working in the garden. Furthermore, harvesting hard foods like cucumbers and carrots fresh from the garden has been a great way for him to work on his feeding therapy, strengthening his oral muscles and movements.
“Logan has a feeding tube (gastrostomy tube). He does eat a little by mouth, but he has a feeding disorder and sensory challenges that make it difficult. I home-blend his tube feeds, and I love to include the veggies and fruits we grow in our garden. I add pretty much anything we grow into his blends. I teach him the whole process of sowing the seed, watering and fertilizing, harvesting, prepping and putting it into the blender, then pushing it through his feeding tube with his syringe. He is starting to understand where his food came from and how it got to his stomach.”
In the summer, Jinah prepares tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, bell peppers, green beans, and zucchini. In the fall, she adds kale, carrots, spinach, radish, and broccoli to the blends. She also loves to make zucchini pancakes or add the veggies to Korean Kimchi pancakes.
“Lyla and Logan work well together and help each other grow. They have learned compassion, kindness, and patience by gardening together, said Jinah. “They will remind each other to be gentle with plants, and give them love. I always said that's why our garden grows so well!”
For parents or caregivers of neurodiverse children or children with disabilities, Jinah’s best advice is to simply let the kids have fun! The most important thing is getting them involved, learning with them, and letting them be themselves.
“Many people seem to think that gardening needs to be perfected, with everything in its own place, with the perfect conditions and environment. When I first started gardening with Logan, it was definitely a learning experience. I was a beginner, and wanted to make sure everything was perfect, but I soon realized that was impossible when gardening with a toddler, a special needs toddler at that! Kids are curious naturally. They learn with their hands and love to touch and feel. It is hard trying to sow seeds in a perfect line with the kids throwing them all over the place. There will be plenty of times where kids will pick the vegetables when they're not ripe or ready to be picked yet. Stems and leaves will be broken, or even completely pulled out of the ground. It's easy to get frustrated and angry, feeling like all your hard work has been ruined. I've been there, done that. I always give the kids their own corner of the garden, or their own kiddie swimming pool filled with soil and plants to grow. When they have their own space, they can touch and learn without restrictions. Gardening should be FUN!!”
Jinah also recommends The Ability Garden, a non-profit horticultural therapy program that offers therapeutic hands-on activities and classes for the New Hanover, NC, community, as well as plant sales that benefit the program.