Deb Babcock: A garden to stimulate the senses |

Deb Babcock: A garden to stimulate the senses

Deb Babcock

Clients in the Humble Ranch Education & Therapy Mini Camp program feed vegetables to a llama at the ranch in July 2007.

— Have you ever thought about how a garden affects your senses? Most of us enjoy the beauty of the colors, shapes, play of light and shade and the graceful movement of grasses, leaves and foliage as plants sway in the wind. We also breathe in the aroma from scented plants, allow the herbs, spices and flavors of various plants to tingle our taste buds, and caress the texture of plants such as pussytoes, lambs ears and mosses. Even our auditory sensors are affected by the wind blowing through grasses and trees or rain dripping off foliage onto a stone pathway.

At Humble Ranch here in Steamboat Springs, a group of master gardeners – Gayle Reed, Pam Roemmich, Charlotte Kuntz, Pat Anthony and Sandy Clavedetcher – created a sensory garden for the children and young adults who receive therapy at this 1,800 acre ranch located along the Yampa River south of town. Occupational therapists at the ranch help people with needs ranging from physical and developmental disabilities to behavioral and emotional disorders.

Following some suggestions from occupational therapist Liz Leipold, who researched sensory gardens, the Master Gardeners cleaned a couple of raised beds and planted flowers and vegetables there that are used by therapists to help clients develop their senses of smell and touch.

“The clients feel the textures and learn to discriminate between wet and dry soil, soft plants and prickly ones and learn how hard they can touch a plant without crushing it,” said Cheri Trousil, physical therapist and program director at Humble Ranch.

Colorful giant sunflowers and hollyhock plants grow to great heights in the beds and provide colorful bouquets inside the ranch as well as outdoors. Wooly thyme was planted along the paver and pebble walkway. It releases fragrance when stepped on. Also included in the sensory garden beds is a curry plant, which smells like the Indian mixture of spices called curry and releases its pungent fragrance when touched. The pathways also give clients a sense of textures as well as the temperature differences between pavers, stones and grass when they walk with bare feet.

“The visual organization of the rows of plants, how colors are used and how a garden is presented also aids in therapy,” Cheri added.

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The raised beds give children and those in wheelchairs easy access to the plantings and encourage clients to get close and feel, smell and listen to the plants and flowers. Future plans call for wind chimes and a water feature to further enhance the senses when exploring the garden.

Often, an individual with a disability affecting one of his or her senses will find that the remaining senses are heightened. A sensory garden can bring enjoyment by rousing those remaining senses.

“Until we had the master gardeners available to create this garden for us, we couldn’t go forward with our ideas for this. They’re awesome,” Cheri said. To learn more about Humble Ranch Education and Therapy Center, visit the Web site:

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: