by Samantha Richardson, horticulturist
“Mmm, it tastes so sweet!” We all know that reaction – after biting into a perfectly ripe, juicy strawberry freshly picked from the garden, we close our eyes and savor the sweetness.
Now, when was the last time you stopped and closed your eyes to enhance a different sense – hearing? “I can hear the flowers growing!” Wait, what? That one may not be familiar to you. To a child though, that is how they describe the calm sounds in a garden. We use horticulture to engage children of all ages, pre-K through high school and beyond, by beginning with something tangible. A walk through our Sensory Gardens, a collection of five gardens, each one highlighting a different sense, allows children to break free from boundaries usually imposed on them. From there, we introduce them to new ideas while their eyes and ears and hands are still wide open.
"Sometimes, the kids are opposed to stepping in the garden – they’ll get dirt on their shoes! But when tempted with the prospect of getting up close to a sweet smelling flower, they usually concede. Sometimes, the kids are afraid to walk under the canopy of trees – it’s too dark! But holding hands and conquering a challenge makes them feel strong.
If the outside garden is just too “wild” for them, we also have an educational greenhouse. A warm, tropical environment, especially in winter, is an easy way to see every pair of eyes widen with excitement. “Look at all the colors!” The vibrant coleus plants are always eye-catching and when told they can each bring one home, the cheers are deafening. With their full attention now, all their senses are awake as they learn how to take a simple cutting and propagate their own plant – “My own baby plant! Isn’t it cute?”
What started as an uncertain visit to a strange place with lots of dirt and worms ends with a group of children, cooing at their new plants, with a whole new view of their environment.
**All photos by Samantha Richardson
Greater Newark Conservancy
ph: 973.642.4646 x29
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published January 25, 2017