Planting Fields Arboretum to get sensory garden

State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, right, and leaders

State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, right, and leaders of the Planting Fields Foundation, discuss plans for a Sensory Garden at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay. (June 21, 2013) (Credit: Ed Betz)

A new $1.6 million garden planned for Planting Fields Arboretum in Upper Brookville will offer an opportunity for the disabled to enjoy nature up close by showcasing plants that appeal directly to the senses.

The Gold Coast estate turned arboretum will break ground July 11 on a roughly 3,500-square-foot sensory garden, one of the most advanced in the metropolitan area, said Vincent Simeone, director of the state historic park.

"Planting Fields is a fabulous park in that it connects so many directly to nature, and parks are about making this connection for everyone," state parks commissioner Rose Harvey said. "A sensory garden is an extension of this park that will make this direct connection for everyone -- for the old, for the young, for those with disabilities."

The interactive garden, the park's first in about eight years, will be adjacent to the greenhouses. It will feature about 50 types of plants. Some, like lavender, will appeal to the sense of smell. Some, like perennial grasses, will appeal to one's hearing, and others, like cypress, to touch. Wind chimes and a touch pool will be among other sensory features.

The garden, which those involved hope to complete by spring 2014, will meet Americans With Disabilities Act standards. There will be wide aisles for wheelchair accessibility, benches for resting and raised flower beds for close-up interaction. Labels will also be in Braille, and the garden will use green technology and water conservation methods.

"We're adding a 21st-century dimension to this great 20th-century garden," said Henry Joyce, executive director of the Planting Fields Foundation, a nonprofit that helps support the park.

Plans also include a nearby new entrance pavilion to better orient people to the 409-acre estate and show off the sensory garden. "We're trying to be more user-friendly and accessible to everyone," Simeone said.

Peter Tilles, a trustee of the Planting Fields Foundation and donor to the project, was inspired after seeing the sensory garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The project was conceptualized about eight years ago and a design was completed in the past few years by landscape architect Richard Gibney of Wading River and a state parks committee.

"We looked at the Chicago Botanic Garden and other sensory gardens around the country, and we consider it to be cutting-edge," Gibney said.

Harvey said the garden is a special project because it is a "deliberate outreach to all and everyone."

Almost $1 million has been raised for the garden, including $400,000 from the state.

John D. Kemp, president of the Viscardi Center and Henry Viscardi School, which educates children with physical disabilities, praised the garden as "extremely inclusive and respectful of people with disabilities."

"Most of our kids use powered or wheeled mobility and they would thoroughly enjoy being able to get close to nature," Kemp said.

Sensory gardens have become more prevalent in the past decade or so, but are by no means the norm, Simeone said. "There's really no better way to get people in touch with nature," he said.

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