A FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Experiential education found at Idlewild Park’s Sensory Garden.
WRITTEN BY NATASHA BOURLIN
PHOTOS BY ASA GILMORE
A plucky duck steps directly underfoot while a fearless squirrel pokes its furry face out of a hole to glower at passersby. Apparently, there’s stiff competition for the many edible components of the Sensory Garden in Reno’s Idlewild Park.
Program director for Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful Lindsey Panton says her team can’t beat the neighboring critters to the taste bed each year, but the visiting wildlife only adds to the overall experience.
Started in 2012, the Sensory Garden is a joint project between the City of Reno and KTMB. Created to fill a vacant portion of the park near its popular train ride, the garden was inspired by interactive and educational garden beds that the city’s previous horticulturist had seen in another town.
Years later, Idlewild’s Sensory Garden now flourishes each spring and summer thanks to KTMB volunteers, City of Reno employees, and donors such as the John Ben Snow Trust and the Robert Z. Hawkins Foundation.
Garden beds each are dedicated to the five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound. Other aspects encourage awareness of time and temperature. Whimsical, blooming willow branches wind around tunnels that guide garden meandering. At the far end, a five-panel mural painted by local artist Reena Spansail employs colors and life found in the Great Basin to illustrate each bed. Nearby, time and thyme meet at a human sundial ringed with the herb, where your shadow tells the time of day.
Supervised children and adults are encouraged to interact with — not keep out of — the garden facets. Each gives them a relatable, hands-on opportunity to learn about nature.
For example, plot planners knew just how to inspire children to explore the taste garden and learn where their food comes from.
“We have nearly everything that goes on a pizza!” Panton says.
Other edible garden components include tomatoes, onions, strawberries, stevia, golden currants, both chile and sweet peppers, several fruit trees, and many herbs such as basil, lavender, sage, and mint — even tasty flowers.
Hearty plants welcome
Only gentle fluttering breezes can be heard as they caress the hearing bed’s bamboo and grasses. Love-in-a-mist seedpods rattle softly. Bee balm encourages the quiet hum of honeybees, while butterfly bushes and native milkweed attract monarch butterflies.
While your eyes may easily be pleased by roses, poppies, and lupines, the visually inspired bed also points out contrasts in texture, light, and shadows. In the scent garden, fragrant lovage, lavender, pinks, peonies, chives, and mint abound.
Panton thoughtfully designed the tangible touch bed. Scotch grass — close to her Scottish-born heart — thrives thanks to the shade of a nearby Lebanese cedar tree. Texturally interesting succulents carpet the earth near velvety lamb’s ears. Rocks were chosen for their textures and sizes, big enough not to be swallowed by little ones, light enough to use for cairn building.
“People discover stuff they never even knew to look for,” Panton says.
Near each bed is an informative sign describing its contents and posing curiosity-inspiring questions. Field trip programs and educational Artown events this July further draw visitors to the garden.
Panton is passionate about all that the botanical microcosm offers the community, as is City of Reno horticulturist Pamela Bedard.
“Many communities across the world have their own special niche where the residents can enjoy their parks’ and gardens’ uniqueness, [such as] the San Diego Botanic Garden and The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island,” Bedard says. “I feel that the vision of Sensory Garden is comparable, and I’m excited for the next stage of the garden and encourage all to join in the experience.”
Natasha Bourlin is a freelance writer who loves to have all of her senses engaged while eating and traveling, as they were in the Sensory Garden.
Sensory Garden Hours
11 a.m. – 3 p.m., Tues. – Fri., and 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sat. – Sun., now through Sept. 4. It also will be open on Labor Day from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
For details, visit Ktmb.org/sensory-garden or call 775-851-5185.