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Sensory Garden opens at Planting Fields state park

Nicole Menchise of Oyster Bay smells a tomato

Nicole Menchise of Oyster Bay smells a tomato plant while browsing inside the new sensory garden at the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay on Thursday, July 9, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

A hands-on garden highlighting all five senses opened Thursday at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park.

In the new Sensory Garden, berries and cherry tomatoes can be tasted and the fuzziness of lambs ear leaves contrasts with the softness of ornamental grasses, said Vincent Simeone, director of the park, which is located in Oyster Bay.

Lavender, wisteria, honeysuckle and the more exotic Korean spice bush and the Chinese paper bush all can be sniffed in the 3,500-square-foot outdoor garden.

A fountain, waterfall and wind chimes can be heard, against a backdrop of colorful plants, such as morning glory vine, marigolds, witch hazel and celosia, Simeone said.

"It's for you and me . . . and especially the physically challenged. It gives them an opportunity to be outside and enjoy the plants and flowers and the sound and water, and to touch and smell," said Peter Tilles, a member of the arboretum's foundation.

Tilles, who helped raise $800,000 for the garden, saluted the state for funding the rest of its $1.3 million cost.

To ensure visitors don't have to bend down, the plants occupy raised beds. Walkways can be easily navigated by those pushing baby carriages or wheelchairs, noted Susan Gordon Ryan, who serves on the Board of Commissioners for Long Island state parks.

"It's very peaceful. . . . You're not overstimulated; you're kind of calm," she said, noting the garden's serenity can be particularly appealing to those with autism.

Wildlife lovers were not forgotten. Some plants, such as coneflowers and butterfly weeds, will attract "pollinators," including butterflies, Simeone said.

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