04/20/2012 08:10 am ET

Scripps Park Sensory Garden Offers Accessible Outdoor Experience

Visitors to Detroit's Scripps Park will have an opportunity to get in touch with the natural world through a unique garden designed to engage the five senses.

Last summer, a number of community groups working with the adjacent Detroit Public Library Douglass Branch planted a "sensory garden" in small gravel bed they constructed at the park -- a project they plan to expand this spring.

When the additions are completed, the garden will feature a variety of sense-evocative plants, including black-eyed Susans for color, lavender for its smell, whirling butterflies for their movement, lamb's ears for their soft texture and nasturtiums for their taste.

Dori Middleton launched the project in 2011. She works with the Douglass Branch, a special services wing of DPL that houses a library for the blind and physically handicapped. She got some help from Friends of Scripps Park, the Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corporation and Americorps.

This year, the groups will be expanding the green space with the help of a small grant from the Michigan Community Service Commission and two beds donated by by the the North End Sensory Garden.

North End Studios planted that garden with the help of neighborhood residents for last September's Detroit Design Festival, but found themselves needing a new location for their beds when the lot where it was located was sold.

North End's gardeners heard about the Scripps project and committed to transplanting their beds there.

Sensory gardens contain plants with accentuated sensory characteristics, and they are often created to be accessible and enjoyable to an audience that includes people with disabilities. The Scripps Park Sensory Garden's will feature braille signs to encourage use.

"Because it kind of caters to all five senses, it is really inclusive to people that may have a visual impairment or other types of impairments," said Stephanie Howells, a neighborhood resident and Americorps member who's been working on the garden with her colleague Zach Fairchild. "They get to experience the garden to their fullest."

Garden organizers have scheduled two work days in early May to upgrade the garden and they welcome community participation. Howells said the work days and subsequent garden maintenance will be open to everyone, including people with disabilities -- an aspect of the project that carries a personal significance for her.

"I'm really excited that it's focused on being inclusive," she said. "My mom is legally blind and she'll be able to work on a project!"

On May 4, volunteers will transplant the North End gardens and on May 5 volunteers will rebuild beds and install plants and take care of other gardening work. Friends of Scripps Park and WNDC will also help with a park cleanup.

To find out more about the project and to see updates of the sensory garden's progress, visit or email Project organizers are especially interested in hearing from volunteers who have access to a dump truck or pick-up truck to help move the beds.