The PlayGarden Story!

 In early  2002, PlayGarden Founder and Executive Director, Liz Bullard set about to bring the idea of a  PlayGarden to life for the Seattle community. Ms. Bullard, a Speech-Language Pathologist working at Boyer Children’s Clinic, happened upon a short article about Manhattan’s Rusk children’s playgarden, which was designed for children with disabilities. Inspired to find a similar program in the Northwest, she began her search for a place where children of all abilities could come to play together. She knew the children and families who needed such a play space well. As Bullard explains, “for over 20 years I had worked with hundreds of children with challenges such as autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delay and hearing or vision impairments. I watched as these children and their parents worked day by day to  succeed. Their days were filled with therapy appointments-physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, doctor’s appointments, school and tutoring. They have such intense schedules that most of us would buckle under. But when school is finally out where can these hard working kids go to play?”

Seattle is a world class city with beautiful parks of all kinds: the ride your bike park, the beach park, the woods and trails park and practically a playground every few blocks. These parks, however, do not work for all children.

While parks and playgrounds are ADA compliant, they are often not designed to be inclusive. They are accessible, but not yet inclusive. Most parks and playgrounds are not designed with the needs of autistic children in mind, who may need a fence to prevent elopement. Most parks and playgrounds are not designed with the needs of a child with a disability like cerebral palsy in mind, who may need postural support to play on a swing or seesaw.  Most parks and playgrounds are not staffed and parents and children are left to fend for themselves when a difficult social interaction occurs.

Enter the PlayGarden!

By  late 2002, Bullard sent out emails and letters to all she thought would be interested in creating an inclusive play space in Seattle. Many who attended these meetings were parents of her clients at Boyer Children;s Clinic. Kathy Sitchin and her young son, Eli joined the team as did Rick Jones and Dr. Abraham Bergman. In early 2003 the PlayGarden received their first donation from Special Education Teacher, Robin Warmby Laskowsky, which funded the application for non-profit status 501 ( c) ( 3) with the IRS. 

Dr. Bergman suggested asking Seattle Parks for a piece of property to house the PlayGarden with the rationale that Parks and Rec were not serving children with disabilities well. Parks Superintendent, Ken Bounds agreed. Parks would give us a piece of land with the conditions that the PlayGarden would get neighborhood support for the project, raise all of the capital costs and maintain the site. The south end of Colman Playfield, in south central Seattle was chosen for its topography, its existing building and the proximity to I-5 and I-90 for easy access for King  county residents.

With a site selected and non profit status achieved,  attention was turned to design of the space and fundraising.

By  late 2002, Bullard sent out emails and letters to all she thought would be interested in creating an inclusive play space in Seattle. Many who attended these meetings were parents of her clients at Boyer Children;s Clinic. Kathy Sitchin and her young son, Eli joined the team as did Rick Jones and Dr. Abraham Bergman. In early 2003 the PlayGarden received their first donation from Special Education Teacher, Robin Warmby Laskowsky, which funded the application for non-profit status 501 ( c) ( 3) with the IRS. 

Dr. Bergman suggested asking Seattle Parks for a piece of property to house the PlayGarden with the rationale that Parks and Rec were not serving children with disabilities well. Parks Superintendent, Ken Bounds agreed. Parks would give us a piece of land with the conditions that the PlayGarden would get neighborhood support for the project, raise all of the capital costs and maintain the site. The south end of Colman Playfield, in south central Seattle was chosen for its topography, its existing building and the proximity to I-5 and I-90 for easy access for King  county residents.

With a site selected and non profit status achieved,  attention was turned to design of the space and fundraising.

Who Designed the PlayGarden

The PlayGarden design team includes professionals in architecture, landscape architecture, garden design, child development, art, and life! Each contributed to the beauty, accessibility and playfulness of the space. 

Jeff Babienko Jeff served as Lead Architect for our buildings. Jeff is a LEED AP-certified architect registered in Washington and New York State. Jeff has worked as an architect in Seattle since 2001, after having worked in New York City for several years. Committed to design, detailing, and environmental sustainability, Jeff embraces the challenge of creating and realizing other people’s dreams through architecture. 

Elizabeth Bullard The visionary behind the Seattle Children’s PlayGarden, Liz has worked in the Seattle area as a Speech-Language Pathologist serving young children and their families for 20 years before becoming the Executive Director of the PlayGarden in 2006. She founded the PlayGarden in 2002 in recognition of the right for all children to play outdoors, a firm belief that guided her efforts in the design of the PlayGarden. 

Gay Naganuma Burton Gay has worked in hospital, school, and early intervention settings as a pediatric physical therapist since 1984. She has been at Boyer Children’s Clinic since 1987 and is currently the Therapy Department Coordinator. An avid home gardener, Gay was thrilled to participate in design of the PlayGarden and combine her love of growing flowers and edibles with her professional experience fostering the motor development of young children. 

Robin Warmby Laskowski With a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education and a Graduate Certificate in Infant Mental Health from the University of Washington, Robin’s work focuses on supporting young children with special needs and their families. Robin is thrilled to witness families and children of all abilities come together to grow and learn in the outdoors, and has been a committed member of the PlayGarden team since 2002. 

Wendy Welch, of Wendy Welch Garden Design, joined the PlayGarden team in 2008. As Lead Garden Designer, she designed our butterfly garden, Wild Zone, and our Water Wise Garden. She provided an overall planting plan and color expertise for our custom climbing mound.

Daniel Winterbottom Daniel is a professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Landscape Architecture, and a founding member of the PlayGarden design team. He lent his talent and expertise in designing therapeutic gardens to the overall site plan for the PlayGarden. In addition to his teaching, Daniel is the principal of Winterbottom Design, Inc., a Seattle- based landscape architecture and site planning firm. 

Trimpin Trimpin is a German born kinetic sculptor, sound artist, and musician. His work integrates sculpture and sound across a variety of media including fixed installation and live music, theater, and dance performance.Trimpin joined the PlayGarden design team in 2011 when he led 15 youth ,of all abilities, in a design build workshop. His installations at the PlayGarden include the Bongobenny Quintet ( 2013) and Pebble Chime ( 2020).

Eli Sitchin Eli joined the design team as a 6 year old  in 2004 and inspired the volcano theme of our custom climbing mound. He attended several years of summer camp, joined the camp staff in 20__ and is a recent graduate of Purdue University. 

Stephen Hirt, Steve  creates one of a kind, site-specific pieces for public, private, and liturgical spaces. He is intrigued by the ability of material to convey meanings. He joined the PlayGarden design team in 2018 to create  three pieces for the Pathway for Play project:  a stunning entry gate, oversized dandelion sculptures and an informational kiosk.

 Dennis Poon, AIAA MIG/Portico  Dennis is a Senior Exhibit Designer. He joined the PlayGarden design team as the head designer for the Pathway for Play project.  

Construction Funding. Then & Now

The total cost of the construction of the 5 phases of the  PlayGarden is $4.3 million. The PlayGarden received substantial public support from the city of Seattle, King County and the State of Washington. Private foundations including the Norcliffe Foundation,the McEachern Foundation, the Boeing Employee Community Fund, and several other foundations that remain anonymous contributed significantly to the project. Individual donors, most notable, Matthew Bergman provided substantial funding for the Minnie Bergman GardenHouse. Take a photo tour of the history of the PlayGarden! 

Ongoing operational support comes from King County Public Health Best Start for Kids initiative,  private foundations, fees for summer camp and preschool, and private individuals. 

The PlayGarden hosts an annual luncheon each spring that funds scholarships to camp and preschool and helps keep fees for these programs affordable to all. The lease agreement between the City of Seattle Department of Parks and Rec and the PlayGarden includes off -sets  based on the value of the capital improvements to the site as well as the community benefits from programs operated by the PlayGarden. Please see the Annual Reports for more information.