Bernheim’s Sensory Garden celebrates its public opening

By Renee Frith

Today, we invited the public to celebrate the opening of the new Sensory Garden, a welcoming space for those of all abilities. The Sensory Garden is expertly designed to allow all our guests to enjoy nature in a way that works for each individual.

“The spirit that guided Bernheim’s team in creating the Sensory Garden is closely aligned with Bernheim’s mission of connecting people with nature, which includes an obligation to provide diversity, inclusion, and accessibility for all species – plant, animal, and human,” said Dr. Mark K. Wourms, executive director. “No matter our ability level, we all connect with nature through our senses and we are unwavering in our dedication to furthering our founder’s vision of a place that everyone can experience.”

This new garden is a revitalization of an existing beautiful space of stone beds near the Education Center and the Silos. Although the garden is located at Bernheim, the realization of the Sensory Garden is the product of many throughout the wider community – particularly those who live with Autism Spectrum Disorder or blindness and visual impairment — and their families, caregivers, and teachers.

Over the course of the garden’s design and realization, the team hosted many visits from the communities of Families for Effective Autism Treatment, Dreams with Wings, Arts for All, and the Kentucky School for the Blind Charitable Foundation, which also provided some of the project’s funding along with the Crusade for Children and Kosair Charities. Their thoughtful insights helped shape the garden’s overall design, signage, special features, navigability and many other aspects.

“We are grateful for our partnership with Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.  Their invitation to be a part of the planning and execution of the sensory garden and accompanying art installation underscores their incredible commitment to making the beauty of nature accessible and inclusive. We look forward to spending time enjoying the garden and all that Bernheim has to offer its visitors,” said Heather Sauer of Dreams with Wings.

In meeting with these partners, the Bernheim team listened and asked questions to truly understand how individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and visual impairments use and navigate spaces. With that understanding, Bernheim incorporated an amplified sensory design to help those with sensory challenges experience the Bernheim Sensory Garden more independently as they connect to nature.

Features of the Sensory Garden

· Interpretive signage including pictograph and Braille components to describe each sensory landscape bed, the quiet space, and overall purpose of the space: Tree identification signs with Braille can be found in the picnic area adjacent to the Smell and Quiet spaces.

· Plants with tactile qualities in the Touch space: Some recognizable common names represented are lamb’s ear, coneflower, sensitive fern, hops, and variegated yucca. Other tactile elements include smooth driftwood from the Falls of the Ohio, bumpy and rough-textured planter pots, and many upcycled components yet to be installed.

· Quiet Space: In speaking with our partners, we learned that the infinity symbol was the original Autism symbol. We repurposed two millstones that we found on site and used those as individual seats. We planted Taxus cuspidata ‘Columnaris,’ commonly known as Adam’s columnar yew, in the shape of an infinity symbol, leaving two openings on opposite sides of the symbol so those who need a quiet space can enter, have a seat, and be soothed while surrounded by nature.

· Sound features: A decorative water feature provides a summer water source for birds and small mammals. The Hearing space will focus on water, but the entire garden sings the song of nature, including insects buzzing, leaves rustling, melodies of wind chimes, and children’s laughter.

· Seating with meaning: The Buddy Benches are the dream of a local Cub Scout who wants those who have been bullied or are perceived as “different” to have a safe place to take a break from those negative feelings.

If you missed today’s opening, be sure to come out and delight each of your five senses in this stunning new garden space.



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