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See, touch, taste and smell Planting Fields Arboretum's new sensory garden

Nancy Massar from Oyster Bay and Courtney Quinn

Nancy Massar from Oyster Bay and Courtney Quinn from Huntington touch the plants in the new sensory garden at Planting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay, July 9, 2015. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

It's a feast for the senses.

The new sensory garden at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park bursts with color and greenery amid the gentle sounds of waterfalls and wind chimes.

Years in the planning and construction, the finished garden takes into consideration all ages and abilities, with wide brick paths and low ledges that allow children and those in wheelchairs unobstructed views. Eventually, signs in Braille will describe each flower and herbs.

"The idea was give it a complete experience," says Vincent Simeone, arboretum director. "Wherever you were in the garden, you would be having more than one sense stimulated."

In addition to the new garden, the arboretum now welcomes visitors with a high-arched pavilion that leads to the sensory garden and the main greenhouse.


Flowers with vibrant colors for the eye, wind chimes and waterfalls for the ears, herbs such as thyme and basil, and vegetables, including eggplant and tomatoes, for taste and smell, and tactile plants, such as lamb's ear, for touch, are all part of the 3,500-square-foot new addition to the arboretum. More plantings are underway.

"There will be a lot of butterfly-friendly and pollen-friendly plants, too," says Simeone. "It will be very visual."

During the garden's opening day, 20-month-old Anna Elize was certainly enjoying the waterfall, which was low enough that she could put her hands in the trickling stream.

"Kids like to touch," says her father, Ted Bakalis of Oyster Bay, a member who notes they spend much time there, and that his daughter took her first steps at the arboretum. He appreciates that the sensory garden plantings are low enough for her to enjoy.

Peter Tilles, who is on the board of directors of Planting Fields Foundation and a major donor behind the garden, says the idea came to him after visiting a similar one at Chicago Botanic Garden 20 years ago with his wife.

"We said, 'Wow. We need something like this on Long Island,' " he notes, adding, it's "a garden for all."


The brick path winds in a wide circle, giving visitors places to stop and smell the flowers and herbs.

"It doesn't really single out people with disabilities, but welcomes them," says Susan Gordon Ryan, past regional director of state parks' Long Island region and now a member of its commission. At the end of the path -- or the beginning if you are coming up the ramp -- is another circle, this one with plants along the outside, where kids can sit on the low ledge and be among the greenery. Park staff will use it at times as a classroom.

"It's such a beautiful extension of an already welcoming environment," Gordon Ryan says.


After a walk around the sensory garden, take time to explore the arboretum's 400 acres, including woodland trails and manicured rolling lawns. Flowers are always in bloom somewhere on the property, including in the main greenhouse, lush with tropical palms, ferns, hibiscus, orchids, cactus and even banana trees. It's open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visitors also can tour Coe Hall, the former mansion of William Robertson and Mai Rogers Coe, with its great halls, Elizabethan-style furnishings and stained-glass windows dating back to the 13th century.

On weekends, the cafe in the Hay Barn sells salads and sandwiches.


WHEN | WHERE 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay

INFO 516-922-8600,

ADMISSION $8 per car

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