Officials broke ground Thursday novel sensory garden at the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park that will be center of a new entrance pavilion under construction at the Oyster Bay orchard.
Sensory gardens are designed to enhance the park-going experience, leave behind background noise and connect with visitors, including people with disabilities that may not normally get to fully enjoy interacting with nature.
“We want people to smell the roses, literally,” said Peter Tilles, trustee of nonprofit Planting Fields Foundation dedicated to preserving and enhancing the arboretum in collaboration with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “This will be a place for people to relax, contemplate, to feel and touch.”
The park, which is celebrating its centennial, is set on the 409-acre former Gold Coast estate of the late industrialist William Robertson Coe.
Tilles helped raised nearly $1 million for the project, which he said has been in the works for nine years. The goal is to raise $1.3 million to complete the work.
“We need to make sure parks aren’t taken out of the budget,” Rose Harvey, commissioner of the state parks department, said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “This is where people go in tough economic times.”
Once completed, the garden will feature Herbaceous plants, shrubs and an interactive touch pool. Signs will be in Braille and the paths will be wide and smoother for wheelchair access. Plant beds will be raised so they’re within not only sight and smell, but also touch of visitors.
John D. Kemp, president of The Viscardi Center and Henry Viscardi School in Albertson for children and adults with disabilities, praised the development.
“This accessible sensory garden allows children and adults with disabilities, many of whom use powered or wheeled mobility, to experience nature from a whole new, up close perspective – the way those without disabilities do,” he said. “We applaud the Planting Fields Arboretum for taking the initiative to create an inclusive garden setting that all visitors can enjoy.”
George Gorman, the Long Island regional director for the state parks department, noted that the coming enhancements will allow both improved visitor experiences and exciting photographic opportunities.
“Your tax dollars are well used in these parks,” Gorman said.