NJMC staffer Jim Wright, who keeps this blog, also writes a column every other Thursday for The South Bergenite. His latest, about the new Sensory Garden at DeKorte, is below:
DeKorte Park’s newest attraction is also its smallest: a charming tenth-of-an-acre sensory garden near the park’s entrance.
From more than a mile of wheelchair-accessible trails to interactive educational kiosks, the N.J. Meadowlands Commission has long been a champion of connecting the disabled with the natural world. The sensory garden, according to NJMC Senior Landscape Architect Lisa Cameron, was the next logical step.
“We’ve always wanted to help DeKorte visitors who have disabilities and who have a very different experience coming to the park than others do,” says Cameron. “We wanted to create a small space with a diversity of plants within reach so those who have limited mobility or eyesight can still have a meaningful experience.”
The rest of the column follows.
To optimize that experience, Cameron chose more than 50 varieties of plants in the well-shaded garden, which is located along the main access path between the Environment Center and the Marsh Discovery Trail. When you see the low stone wall by the walkway, you’re there. The stone wall was specifically designed and built to bring plants closer to those with limited reach or vision.
For Cameron, the neatest thing about creating the garden was using her own senses to select the plants. “I tried to choose as many things as possible that appeal to as many senses as possible. I’d say, ‘Oh, that one is bright,’ or ‘That one has a cool texture,’ or “Smell that one’.”
She chose Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum), for instance, for its deeply lobed and heavily scented leaves, and European Ginger (Asarum europeum) for its dark-green shiny leaves, which feel fuzzy to the touch.
The garden, still a work in progress, will have custom-designed name tags, but Cameron does not want to have too much information on the signs: “We will use a lot of symbols, and Braille, but we also want people to experiment and figure out for themselves why a plant is there.” Michele Daly, Director of Disability Education at the Meadowlands Environment Center, is developing audio and other interpretive/educational materials to help make the garden as accessible as possible for everyone.
While no pesticides are used in the garden, Cameron advises using the utmost caution when tasting any plant — including the basil leaves and onion sets.
“We don’t want to encourage anyone to taste anything unless they absolutely know what it is and whether they might be allergic to it,” she says.
The sensory garden is open daily during DeKorte Park’s normal hours, 8 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. The Meadowlands Commission invites you to stop by and see – and touch, and smell, and hear and (sometimes) taste — for yourself.