By JOYCE COMINGORE
In the fall of 2004, my daughter who now teaches at Trafalgar Middle School, was teaching at Cypress Lake Middle School. She wanted her students to plant a garden outside their door, and with a Master Gardener mother, she turned to me. The teacher across the way had the lower half of their common area and John Sibley was helping them do native plants. I suggested we do a Sensory Garden. This was an emotionally challenged, not mentally challenged group. We needed to appeal to their senses.
Local Master Gardeners go once a year to the Epcot Flower Festival in Orlando's Disney World to man the state's question-and-answer booth. I went, and picked up an information sheet on the Opportunity Gardens. It contained ideas for a Senses Garden, an Adaptable Garden and a Horticulture Therapy Garden.
I gave several teaching sessions about what were our senses (five in all), in which to be appealed: soil (not dirt), ph, watering, etc.; the differences between herbs and spices. One session my daughter made rolls with herbs in them and herb dips for chips. We discussed where flavorings come from for toothpaste, gum and that cinnamon was a spice. Then we had planting and maintaining sessions. The students' biggest punishment was not to be allowed outside to garden. They became quite an excited handful, but very cooperative. Tasting the plants that provided the herb sage for the turkey dressing, the oregano for pizza (we served pizza), mint for their gum and toothpaste; taste, of course, became their primary delight.
The University of Florida had just published Document ENH 981 about Sensory Gardens, first written in 2003, reviewed in 2004 and 2010, then revised in April 2013; and India had just established and opened an International Five Senses garden in February 2003 near Delhi, spread over 20 acres. India's main Garden of the Five Senses Festival is in February, sponsored by the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation Limited. Since then, there have been many cities worldwide that have established Gardens of Five Senses. Our closest one is in North Port, maintained by North Port.
Sight, of course, is the beauty of the garden and blooming flowers: touch is a great benefit for the blind; taste is eating the results of gardening; smell is what draws you to a particular spot; and sound is where you sit and relax and listen to what's around you, a total feeling of relaxation. Lakes Park's garden was begun with the idea of treating people with special needs, blind in particular; but I have found most all gardens appeal to all the senses.
The AARP newsletter has advised us to avoid stress during the holidays - really? Well I thought I needed some relaxation and had my oldest daughter drive me to North Port to visit our nearest labeled, 16-acre Garden of Five Senses. We easily found going north on highway 41 and turning right onto Pan American Boulevard was doable, a long distance, but reasonable. We had the address, but passed it right by. Backtracking, we saw this lovely serene spot surrounded by a black wrought iron fence.
The garden was established Oct. 27, 2007, in memory of Jean Bruhn (1933-2002), called one the area's greatest volunteers and who played such a crucial role in its development. She was the former chairwoman for the the city of North Port's Parks and Recreation Board who got the idea when her son was married in Pennsylvania at Lancaster County's Central Park in 2000, which contained its own Garden of Five Senses.
This park is a park of Florida native plants laid out with many intertwined circular walkways that emphasize each feature with large signs for reading. There are at least five or six separated covered private picnic areas, very private. As you a approach the park, an enormous tree draped with long Spanish moss greets you with a hanging double seat swing underneath, and then you find the large sundial on which you stand on the appropriately marked month, lift your arm and your shadow tells you the time of day. You hear trickling waterfalls and see the tall clacking and talking bamboo surrounding it. The Butterfly Garden has many nectar plants, with a big patch of milkweeds around which monarch and queen butterflies circle. My daughter was fascinated by the mating pair of monarchs. Birds come to the trees and shrubs to sing and eat.
Off by the parking lot is the restroom, just two doors, one labeled male and one labeled female. This is now only phase one. Phases two and three will have more amenities, even an educational facility. For now though, a Master Gardener teaches monthly programs there.
Residents use the park for many reasons. With benches, hanging swings, big rocks to sit on, you can see the statue on one rock with a small boy reading a book. My daughter looked at the book which was titled "Cattoons" and figured it was a misspelling of cartoons. I watched a lady get out of her car and jog the entire perimeter several times. We had stopped there at 2 p.m. and five white utility North Port trucks, some pulling trailers with mowers, pulled in and the drivers were conversing and relaxing. It all made me realize the need to find a haven, a calmer spot to sit and enjoy the gardens. A very clean and neat park.
In researching, I found an article about - the Six Senses Garden. OK, that I needed to look into. I find the author prescribed a sixth addition of the senses, a sense of humor. Plant something unusual or very different, purple carrots, striped tomatoes, green cauliflower or humorous shaped blooms, like the bat plant. The Mimosa pudica is the tickle-me or sensitive plant. This involves touch. Or the purple pods of the lablab beans. They make you smile.
I can easily find a tree here to thank for my fresh air.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.