When many of us think of a garden, we think of a place of visual beauty. Perhaps we envision a formal garden, with its straight lines and mass plantings of colorful tulips, trained roses, and neatly clipped topiaries. Perhaps a charming cottage garden comes to mind, overflowing with a variety of dense plantings, all climbing, sprawling, and mingling pleasantly with one another. Or perhaps we think no further than our front stoop, bordered by bright marigolds and sunny petunias. Regardless of what gardens live in our imagination, the moment we set foot into a real garden, we realize that gardens are far more than just pretty places.
One very special garden in CulpeperCounty seeks to expand on the simple garden experience. Located on the campus of the Culpeper Sports Complex, the FiveSensesGarden is unique in that it has been designed to appeal to more than just our eyes. According to John Barrett, of the Culpeper County of Parks and Recreation Department, the garden was built with an eye toward members of the community with special needs. Specifically, the garden is designed for individuals who have lost the ability to fully utilize one or more of their senses, either through traumatic injury or due to organic causes. Children, too, enjoy the Five Senses garden, as its interactive nature encourages kids’ curiosity and natural inclination to explore their world.
The FiveSensesGarden is completely ADA accessible, featuring wide, paved walkways that easily accommodate wheelchairs and strollers and that lead directly from a designated parking area. The path runs under a broad wooden pergola equipped with shaded benches for those looking for a respite from the sun. Raised garden beds constructed of landscape blocks elevate the plants to near waist height, eliminating the need for visitors to bend or squat. Each of the five beds features plantings that stimulate one or more of the five senses, and visitors are encouraged to use all of their sensory modalities to explore and identify the plants.
In one bed, members of the mint family provide a sweet, tingling feast for the nose. In another bed, visitors can tickle their fingers on the finely textured fern-leafed groundcovers or the soft, broad, wooly leaves of Lamb’s Ear. Deep purple climbing Clematis and vividly-colored coneflower provide an exciting pop of color against the gentle greens of the other plants. The rustling of the tall, ornamental grasses and whispy yarrow lend the garden a perpetually soothing sound. The plants are not the only contributors to the garden’s appeal. Bird feeders stocked with seed attract Goldfinches, Cardinals and other colorful songbirds. Migratory Purple Martins dart and swoop overhead to the collection of Martin houses perched atop poles high above the garden. Fortunate visitors may even be treated to a glimpse of new hatchlings as park staff lower the houses to observe and monitor the birds.
Although officially a project of CulpeperCountyParks and Recreations, Barrett acknowledges that the park was brought life through the collaborative efforts of the community. Building materials, paving services, and other contributions were generously provided by Lowe’s Home Improvement Store, Cedar Mountain Stone, Chemung Contracting Corps., Atler B. Stanley and Sons, Mullen’s Marking, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and the Town of Culpeper. Barrett also hopes that the park will continue to evolve, possibly to include additional elements such as a water feature for further sensory appeal. Local volunteers are currently being sought to maintain and improve the garden.
The FiveSensesGarden is located at the Culpeper Sports Complex, at the corner of Greens Corner Road and Jonas Road in Culpeper. For more information on the park, or to volunteer, contact John Barrett at (540) 727-3444 text 157 or Tabitha at (540) 727-3412, ext 5.
Heather MacMahon is an avid cook and gardener with a special interesting organic, sustainable agriculture. She lives on a small farm with her husband, children, and a menagerie of cats, dogs, rabbits, ducks, turkeys, and way too many chickens.