The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Hunterdon County Sensory Garden Team, led by certified Rutgers Master Gardener Linda Klug, was awarded 1st place in the Search for Excellence Competition at the 2019 International Master Gardeners Conference in Valley Forge, PA in June. Search for Excellence (SFE) is the recognition program of the Extension Master Gardener volunteer work throughout the United States, Canada, and South Korea. SFE projects had to demonstrate their outstanding contributions to their communities and fulfill the criteria of being simple to replicate; demonstrating practicality, originality and creativity; exhibiting compatibility with extension and Master Gardener missions; and whether significant learning occurred and the number of people impacted by the program.
As part of the Rotary-Rutgers Enabling Garden Initiative, the Sensory Garden at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Hunterdon County office started with an open courtyard, two empty garden trugs and a dream. The dream was to create an accessible, educational and fulfilling garden experience for groups that have special needs in the community. With the support of local Rotary clubs, County departments and countless hours of volunteer service from dozens of dedicated Rutgers Master Gardener volunteers, the Sensory Garden was first piloted in 2016.
Three years into the sensory garden, the garden experiences have reached approximately 400 people from several populations that have special needs in the community. Visitors have an opportunity to select from a repertoire of nine programs and nine accompanying activities that are updated each year. To accommodate groups who cannot travel to the location in the summer, the team has added “off-site” sensory garden experiences during the fall and winter.
The Master Gardeners of Hunterdon County Sensory Garden team is comprised of Rutgers Master Gardener volunteers who are dedicated to providing accessible horticultural information in the community, and have truly reached their dream of expanding the gardening world to those who may not otherwise have access and whose living experiences can be narrowing because of physical, emotional or cognitive constraints. The Master Gardeners thought that could best do that through an accessible sensory gardening experience. The project was started with a very small team, seed money from local rotary clubs, lots of enthusiasm and many ideas.
To supplement the outdoor garden experience, the team designed a variety of educational programs and participative activities for special needs visitors. Programs such as “Cool and Kooky Plants,” “Good Smelling Plants,” and “Butterfly Miracle” allow visitors to learn horticultural information in a fun participative way. Accompanying hands-on activities like “Miniature Gardens” and “Decorated Pumpkins” provide visitors with an opportunity to take a memory of the sensory garden home with the pride in being able to say “I made it myself.”
Read more about the project at http://www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/mg.htm.
The Enabling Gardens initiative is a partnership between Rotary District 7510 and the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension. Rotary District 7510 Central NJ had the vision of creating enabling gardens for hands-on club and community service in its five counties of Somerset, Hunterdon, Union, Middlesex and Mercer. The Rotary-Rutgers initiative is creating barrier-free accessible gardens built with modifications.