Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - February 28, 2014

Special garden appeals to all five senses

Visit Centennial Park for a special sensory treat

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

A special plot in the park next to the Senior Center on Sunol Boulevard is endlessly fascinating. Here the Sensory Garden appeals to all five senses -- sight, smell, touch, taste and sound.

"This garden was established some 20 years ago by the Livermore Amador Valley Garden Club," explained club member and art patron Nancy Harrington. "The garden was designed to appeal to everyone, but it is especially laid out with senior citizens and people with disabilities in mind."

The flower beds are 3 1/2 feet high, so the plants are eye level -- and nose level.

"Benches are placed to encourage people to pause, sit and enjoy," Harrington said.

The garden club continues to maintain the Sensory Garden in Centennial Park, with support from the Pleasanton Parks and Recreation Department. Club members visit the garden monthly to volunteer their time weeding, pruning, deadheading, planting, fertilizing and watering.

Club members also choose the plants, taking care to target those that are beautiful and fragrant and with foliage and flowers that are interesting in form and texture.

"Many plants were also selected because they attract pollinating insects and birds," Harrington said.

This means the garden changes each month and each season, she pointed out, keeping it interesting for frequent visitors.

"Small trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs, ornamental grasses and bulbous plants are mixed together," she noted. "In the dry months, the garden is watered by a drip irrigation system and spray from the sprinkler system used to water the adjacent lawn."

Over the last 20 years, garden club members noticed that irregularities in the sprinkler system led to some areas getting little or no water during the summer while other areas received an excess.

"This presented a challenge to the Garden Club to create a palette of plants, some of them thriving in the 'dry' areas while others needing the 'wet' areas," Harrington said. "The summer dry areas are especially adapted to California native plants and other Mediterranean plants. The wet area is populated with plants that like boggy conditions."

Most of the plants are identified with labels, which helps introduce visitors to plants that would do well in their gardens, even if they have wet or dry areas.

The Garden Club members frequently put in new plantings to replace older plants past their prime, Harrington said.

"This keeps the Sensory Garden interesting and changing," she said. "Plants are closely spaced and planted to make best use of the space and allow for a succession of blooms.

"For example, bulbous plants, such as daffodils, hyacinths, Dutch irises and Spanish bluebells flower in winter and spring. As their foliage dies back, perennials such as daylilies, gauras, asters, salvias and Shasta daisies fill in the empty places with blooms through the summer," she continued.

"Sweet peas are planted in the fall in the raised beds and grow through the winter. In the spring, they bloom and cascade over the sides of the beds so their blooms are close to passersby. When the sweet peas fade, nasturtiums and other annuals are planted for summer color."

Now the gardens have daffodils, plus the Bulbinella and California Poppies are beginning their bloom.

"Bring that picnic lunch, take a seat and look, smell and touch the plants," Harrington said. "It's delightful."

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