De­light for the senses

A sen­sory gar­den de­signed to help chil­dren with spe­cial needs

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy VIR­GINIA CUM­MINS

Shel­tered be­hind a high cy­press hedge in the east Melbourne sub­urb of Can­ter­bury is a gar­den that cre­ates a lit­tle gasp of ex­cite­ment for the vis­i­tor. It’s a won­der­land of spa­ces that has been made for the en­rich­ment of chil­dren with sen­sory needs – that is, chil­dren who have autism, sen­sory pro­cess­ing disor­ders, and vi­sion or hear­ing im­pair­ments. But it’s also the pri­vate fam­ily gar­den of re­tired health pro­fes­sional

Liz Reid and her hus­band, Robin.

Here, a va­ri­ety of sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences have been clev­erly in­te­grated into a gar­den that is not pre­scrip­tive in the way it should be ex­pe­ri­enced, but which sub­tly en­cour­ages chil­dren to wan­der into and through it. Along the way, they dis­cover var­i­ous spa­ces, plants, tex­tures and fra­grances, all of which can en­hance their learn­ing, en­gage­ment and spa­tial aware­ness.

An in­ti­mate read­ing room sits snugly be­neath the shel­ter of a ma­ture lil­lyp­illy be­side a wel­com­ing wa­ter fea­ture, with softly hued, fra­grant roses, and knock­out per­fumes from lilacs and jas­mine. A me­an­der­ing path through a shrub­bery of fra­grant plants leads to a raised plat­form perched up in a jacaranda tree. A hid­den tun­nel through the bushes gives an un­ex­pected fun space for chil­dren to crawl through, and a lawn maze pro­vides a soft, spongy sur­face.

The gar­den is filled with an ar­ray of plants cho­sen for their fra­grance, colour, tex­ture, aroma, taste and visual in­ter­est. While a soft, calm­ing colour pal­ette has been used for the flow­ers, there are still pops of

brighter colours in­te­grated through­out the gar­den, en­tic­ing the chil­dren to stop, look, smell and touch. Roses, bud­dleja, lilac, rose­mary, os­man­thus, choisya, jas­mine, salvias, scented gera­ni­ums, philadel­phus, westringia and gre­vil­lea cre­ate a tapestry among ma­ture or­na­men­tal pears and an Ir­ish straw­berry tree that cir­cle the house.

With its high boundary hedges and ma­ture trees, the gar­den has a feel­ing of en­clo­sure and safety.

Yet the com­bi­na­tion of shel­tered and open spa­ces pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren to ex­plore and re­treat as their com­fort lev­els al­low.

a calm­ing space

Liz and Robin im­me­di­ately recog­nised the po­ten­tial of this gar­den space when they were look­ing for a new home af­ter liv­ing over­seas. Liz’s knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence as a health pro­fes­sional helped shape her vi­sion of cre­at­ing a gar­den for chil­dren with sen­sory deficits, im­pair­ments or poor health.

At the time of its de­vel­op­ment, there was lit­tle aware­ness of the ben­e­fits of sen­sory gar­dens, and poor ac­ces­si­bil­ity to them, so Liz and Robin were keen to cre­ate a spe­cial gar­den that small groups of chil­dren from the com­mu­nity could visit.

“There is no sug­ges­tion that this is a ther­apy gar­den, but it has been an en­joy­able op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a gar­den for vis­i­tors to re­ally im­merse them­selves in,” says Liz. “We wanted it to be a soul­ful ex­pe­ri­ence and not just of­fer phys­i­cal in­ter­ac­tion.”

On entering the gar­den you can see sev­eral rooms, paths and vis­tas ahead of you, all of which en­tice you to ex­plore. The de­sign has thoughtfully con­sid­ered that chil­dren have different ex­pe­ri­en­tial needs. Some en­joy open spa­ces, while oth­ers are at ease in in­ti­mate spa­ces, and oth­ers are happy to ex­plore in­de­pen­dently.

Spa­ces such as the de­light­ful story-telling room pro­vide an en­closed, safe, pro­tected area with hints of views out to the gar­den be­yond. A small pond and sub­tle wa­ter foun­tain are sur­rounded by sea­side daisies (Erigeron karvin­skianus), whose small flow­ers can be picked and thrown into the pond. For the ad­ven­tur­ous, the tree plat­form re­veals a view over the gar­den, giv­ing a sense of mas­tery over the king­dom. Com­bined with the hid­den tun­nel, these el­e­ments of­fer ex­pe­ri­ences of go­ing un­der, over and above.

The lawn maze, with its grass and paved pat­tern, pro­vides a more struc­tured path to fol­low, and this fos­ters de­ci­sion-mak­ing skills as chil­dren nav­i­gate their way to the sun­dial in the cen­tre. The thick grass pro­vides a won­der­fully soft, tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence, which con­trasts with the firm, brick path­way.

A de­lib­er­ate ef­fort has been made to use a va­ri­ety of land­scap­ing ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing sand­stone paving, granitic sand, river peb­bles, turf, tim­ber deck­ing and bark, to en­hance the sen­sory im­pact of the gar­den.

One area that is very pop­u­lar with chil­dren is the peb­ble path­way, where a beau­ti­ful metal statue of a dog is positioned. With the crunchy noise of the gravel be­neath, and the rough and smooth tex­tures of the statue, it is no won­der this is a favourite.

the pri­vate gar­den

As you walk through a vine-cov­ered per­gola that di­vides the front yard in two, you en­ter the cou­ple’s pri­vate gar­den. This is a space de­signed for out­door liv­ing that con­nects more di­rectly with in­ter­nal liv­ing ar­eas of the house. Across different lev­els there are a lawn, a gazebo cov­ered in a beau­ti­ful wis­te­ria that was kept from the orig­i­nal gar­den, a stepped deck­ing area with clus­ters of pot­ted flow­ers and herbs, and a raised veg­etable gar­den.

On the lower level, against the house, is a large, paved area for so­cial gath­er­ings that has an added sur­prise el­e­ment. Robin’s en­gi­neer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge were the driver to cover the ex­ist­ing pool and pave over it, so they could store rain­wa­ter for ir­ri­gat­ing the gar­dens. It was an as­tute and prac­ti­cal idea to use the ex­ist­ing pool struc­ture for wa­ter stor­age while also max­imis­ing space for the gar­dens.

“Our gar­den is an ad­junct to the house that we wouldn’t con­sider be­ing with­out,” says Liz. “From in­side we are vis­ually con­nected with our gar­den, and the in­side and out­side spa­ces flow to­gether.”

Whether it is used by chil­dren or adults, this is a gar­den that is about fos­ter­ing en­hance­ment, en­rich­ment and en­gage­ment at a sen­sory level.

It is a gar­den where you can spend long pe­ri­ods of time feel­ing both re­laxed and en­thused.

See Steven vis­it­ing Liz in her gar­den on Fri­day, March 9 at 7.30pm on ABC TV or catch up on iView

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