by Fatima Ammar
Bangor’s student-led community garden at the Fron Heulog site (next to St James’s Church on Friddoedd Road), formerly nicknamed ‘HogSoc garden’ is undergoing a new project in collaboration with Headway Gwynedd, the brain injury association.
On top of the pre-existing raised vegetable beds, cold frames, live willow dome, Welsh heritage fruit trees, and our charismatic shed, we’ll be creating a sensory garden for brain trauma patients to enjoy, benefit from, and relax in.
Sensory gardens are used to help those suffering from various sensory problems, learning difficulties, brain injuries, or mental disorders to feel safe and comfortable exploring their senses and learning to focus on them separately without risk of sensory overstimulation.
All five senses are explored; perfumed flowers and various herbs play on the sense of smell, barks and grasses might provide interesting textures to touch, herbs, edible flowers, and fruits can play on the taste buds, kaleidoscopic wildflower patches provide a show for the eyes and even the shapes of various leaves on the plants can help to encourage shape and spatial awareness.
Colours can also transfer across the seasons making the garden fully functional year around, for example in autumn there is an array of burnt yellows and burnished oranges as well as the crunch sound of decaying leaves covering the ground.
More specifically for the sense of sound, there’ll be bird feeders so regular bird visitors chatter will hopefully provide some song to enrich the garden. The rustling of grass, the whispering of tree leaves and creaking of branches laden with fruit all provide a nice background sound to the garden for anyone who just wants to sit back with closed eyes. Other inquisitive visitors to the garden such as pollinators will allow the patients to learn more about the importance of invertebrates in gardens but also to simply watch bees and butterflies go about their busy day plant-hopping, oblivious to the human world.
The element of water can also encourage inner peace and help reduce anxiety caused by sensory overload. The sound of water is popular in Japanese tea gardens as they believe it induces a state of zen. The practice of introducing water elements to gardens has spread around the world and only increased in popularity due to the inherent calming effects of water.
We are working on a wetland area full of bog-loving plants to not only provide a water element that is safe, but also hopefully encourage some local amphibians to move in which could help in their conservation as well as providing an excellent learning opportunity to garden visitors. Even small bodies of water have been found to attract frogs and toads. Visitors would have the opportunity to watch the mini water ecosystem in full action, from the insects flitting across the surface to the plants taking in the sunlight being visited by pollinators.
Some pollinator-friendly plants have other very beneficial properties too.
For example, herbs provide a wide range of benefits such as lavender being found to calm the senses and mind and chamomile helps the body relax. The scents, textures, and tastes of herbs alone makes them highly prized in therapeutic gardens around the world. Other prized sensory plants include grasses as their length and often transparent nature encourages the eyes and hands to wander through.
These plants can be found in some professional therapeutic gardens designed by world-renowned gardeners and landscapers for the specific purpose of providing a calming yet exciting area for recovery and healing, something we hope our garden will achieve.