By Julianne Mosher
A new sensory garden has been installed outside the Long Island Explorium in Port Jefferson, hoping to give those passing through the village an educational and therapeutic experience.
Sensory gardens are outdoor environments with flower aromas, plant colors, kinetic sculptures and interactive devices that encourage sensory play, learning and experience using all senses.
“These gardens have been shown to offer a range of health, therapeutic and educational benefits to all visitors, with particular benefits to children with sensory challenges, especially those on the autistic spectrum,” said Angeline Judex, executive director of the explorium.
For the past year, the explorium has been working toward creating the space on its front lawn. It all began when Ellen Kushner, treasurer of Decision Women in Commerce and Professions, brought her grandchildren there to play last December.
“I was so impressed with it and they had so much fun,” she said, “I thought to myself that we absolutely had to get involved and give the explorium some funding.”
She said everyone at Decision was on board with the idea to fund the garden, and at the organization’s 40th anniversary dinner in June they gifted the
explorium the grant.
The garden took about $2,000 to create and has been made possible by Decision’s funding, along with a donation and consultation from Port Jefferson Station-based Kunz Greenhouses as well as the village gardener, Caran Markson.
The garden transformed the grass that was originally outside, now including a solar fountain, a pathway of stones and several dozen types of plant species. The garden is more than 70 percent native, with flowers, leaves and stalks that provide food and habitats for wildlife, deep-root systems that purify water along with beauty that nurtures the senses.
“We specifically wanted plants that appeal to the five senses,” said Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, senior adviser to the explorium. “We wanted them to be visually interesting with the variety of fragrances and textures … ones that produce sound when swaying or when touched, and herbs or plants with edibles parts.”
She added, “Research indicates that at the 70 percent native mark, we can reestablish important insect and bird populations.”
Although it’s helpful to the environment, village Trustee Bruce D’Abramo loved the idea that kids can come to the garden and do what they want.
“You don’t have to tell them what to do,” he said. “They make the decisions.”
He added that the space is going to be seen by all walking through the village.
“This area gets a lot of foot traffic,” he said. “Just last weekend at the Dragon Boat Race Festival, 2,500 people walked right past this park.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the garden Sept. 17, and will be open year round, even when the explorium is closed.
“People should come visit and be amazed by the transformation of our front yard into a delightful garden that both teaches and brings joy to everyone,” Judex said. ”I love seeing how people get excited about the sensory garden and want to create one in their own yard.”