by Aly Hutter
If there is one thing that makes me truly happy it would be the enthusiasm children have- While working with the 13th and Union elementary school we had the opportunity to plant a sensory garden. When I first saw the plot full of weeds I was beaming with excitement that I would turn this lonely little garden into a learning experience for many, many years. With a few ideas brewing, Ellen and I began planning. We believed a sensory garden would be a very good learning experience for the children because we would be able to use plants that would not only be appealing to look at but that would also serve as a learning experience about planting, gardening, senses and pollination for the children. Our goal was to make the garden a place that sparked excitement and allowed for learning outside of the classroom.
With the garden plans in the work we realized that there would be a slight struggle to find plants that would be easy maintain and that liked shade due to the large trees outside of the school near the garden. After many hours researching shade perennials that would also serve to invoke at least one aspect of the five senses was a challenge but worth every minute as our list of plants grew on my note pad! Ferns, Hydrangeas, Purple & cinnamon basil, Bee balm, Heavenly blue lithodora, 2 butterfly bushes, Spotted dead nettle (pink & purple), Japanese forest grass, Irish moss (Sagina subulata) and astilbe were all planted. All of these plants are perennials except for the basil. We purchased seeds of basil to be grown by the principal and planted into the garden each year!
Meeting the care givers of the 13th and Union sensory garden was very exciting – on their last full day of first grade we gave the grade very big news as we handed them the responsibility of this garden- with eager hands in the air, many agreed that they would help their teachers take care of the garden and would keep an eye to make sure the garden was enjoyed, respected, and left to attract bees, birds, butterflies. I am very excited to see how the second graders enjoy the garden as it continue to grow.
The garden was planted with the touch and taste plants toward the front so the children would not have to step in the garden bed to feel the silvery-soft purple and pink spotted dead nettle and the carpet-like Irish moss (Sagina subulata). They will be able to smell the bee balm and taste the purple and cinnamon basil leaves with ease. The ferns and Japanese forest grass were placed on opposite sides in hope that wind blowing through the garden would create noise. The butterfly bushes and other flowering plants are a beautiful addition for sight and will attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators that will serve as a perfect experiential lesson for the students on pollinators and their importance.
Now, the garden is all finished and soon to be a blooming forest of sensory, interactive plants for students and community alike to enjoy.