Lerner Garden of the Five Senses – A Sensory Garden Worth Visiting

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

Now that summer is officially here (hurrah!), Maine is a big vacation destination. So it seems like a good time to publish this terrific guest blog post by Amy Wagenfeld about the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses. Amy consults and collaborates with architectural, design, and building professionals on design, installation, post occupancy programming, and evidence-based research of universally designed green spaces. In this post, she gives us a personal guided tour of this new and very successful example of a sensory garden. If you can go visit this summer, let this post be your inspiration (and if you can get there on Saturday, Amy’s giving a talk on ergonomic gardening). And if not, at least we get to go there now with Amy. The Therapeutic Landscapes Network is developing a page on sensory gardens, as the sensory experience is an important part of restorative landscapes. If you know of other good examples of sensory gardens, or have links to good websites, leave a comment below. Thank you, and thank you, Amy, for this post!

All photo for this post are by A. Wagenfeld and E. Kaye. To see more images of the garden, including the labyrinth, visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens website.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

There is a new sensory garden on the scene! For those of us intrigued and enchanted by – not to mention committed to – these spaces, The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is a MUST see (hear, touch, smell, and taste!). Completed in June, 2009, and designed by Herb Schaal, FASLA of EDAW Inc., The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is seamlessly nestled within the sprawling 248 acre waterfront Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Privately financed by Dan and Lyn Lerner, the scope of the project entailed design and construction of a world class universally designed sensory garden.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

Calling the Lerner Garden anything less than a gem is an understatement. Located adjacent to the entrance of the 20 acre main campus, each turn and curve along the wide and smooth, and most gentle of sloped paths – less than or equal to 5% grade length wise and less than or equal to 2% width wise, to be exact – of the 3/4 acre garden entices visitors of all ages and abilities to absorb all the garden has to offer. Striker stones border the main paths to assist the visually disabled, and a set of directional high-low stones indicate an entrance to a different garden area. Benches with backs and arm rests are located in each area so that visitors can rest and reflect on the jewels of the Lerner Garden. A 3-D bronze Braille and tactile map of the garden as well as a large pictorial representation of the garden are located at the entrance arch. The plantings and multitude of sculptural elements are labeled with large font signage. Resplendent with innovative sensory plantings, water features, sculpture, a bridge, and an open classroom pavilion, the Lerner Garden is arranged in five sectors that represent the five basic senses. Enough talk; let’s go on a tour!

lerner garden map

Come into the garden through an archway to the smell area resplendent with fragrant flowers and herbs, beckoning to be touched and smelled. Set into raised beds suitable for seated or standing users, the interactive taste area contains edible vegetables and herbs. The taste area also contains an accessible pavilion, unique vertical planters, and compost bins.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses Located at the garden’s highest elevation is the sight area. The interior of the area contains several water features. One of many environmentally sustainable features, a stream flows from under a wooden bridge constructed from two native trees into the upper pond. A water fountain in the upper pond acts as a centralized focal point to see and listen. The fountain is cleverly located off-center to create gentle waves that pass over a stone veneer weir dam at a forty-five degree angle and flow through a series of parallel channels into the lower pond. The walkway between the ponds beckons visitors to view and touch the flowing water. The pathway level is particularly well suited for wheeled mobility users to gaze at the upper pond surface, and well, the entire Lerner Garden. A labyrinth constructed of raised river stones awaits you in the tactile area. Designed as a reflexology path, take off your shoes and socks and have a walk or place your bare feet on the raised stones. Touch the lamb’s ear, thyme, pineapple lily, and hobbit’s foot, strategically planted, just for you. Listen to the weir dam with its flowing water gently gliding over channels creating peaceful and soothing sounds. Two large vertical stones with recessed holes cut into one side – one at standing height and the other at sitting height – are another a unique feature of the garden. Place your head inside a hole and sing away – the opera singer in you will be captivated as your voice resonates as boisterous sound. Located in the breathtakingly beautiful rural region of Boothbay, Maine, The Costal Maine Botanical Gardens and its newest installation, the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is a destination not to be missed.