“Hey, Janie! Look at the turtle!”
Five women, clad in sun hats and gardening clogs, huddle in a circle around the meandering creature below.
“Well, look at him! He’s a GPS turtle!” one woman shouts from the circle. They make a small opening in their group for me to step in and see the turtle wearing a high-tech contraption that tracks his whereabouts.
It is a balmy July morning at the Louisville Nature Center’s Sensory Garden. It’s Wednesday, the day Janie Cansler and her group of master gardeners tend to their paradise — a sensory-rich urban garden just across from the Louisville Zoo.
“We just go crazy for critters around here,” Janie explains. “Our goal here is to attract pollinators, so we get butterflies, bees, dragonflies, birds, and even frogs in our water feature.”
Since the fall of 2011, Janie and the other master gardeners (six to seven consistent participants that have all completed a 12-hour program through the Jefferson County extension office) have spent every Wednesday morning perfecting this space. The crew of women gather around 8am to prune, weed, plant, and mulch, and the result is an urban paradise that is meant to be explored with the senses. Giant banana trees sway in the breeze (Janie claims them to be the largest in the city), their giant waxy leaves moving in harmony to the sounds of the waterfall below. Beds full of magenta coleus and dianthus, yellow marigolds, and pink periwinkles tantalize the senses of both children and the buzzing bees they attract. Chest-high bronze fennel demands to be touched, its delicate fronds a gift to the fingertips. A signpost reads See, Hear, Touch, and that is what the LNC’s sensory garden is all about.
Without much budget and with very few donations, Janie’s group has built this space with their bare hands, but it has done wonders for their hearts and minds. “This place is much more than a garden to keep my hands busy,” Delaney Bidwell says. “It offers emotional support; it is good for the soul.”
Janie says the master gardeners also work with Dreams with Wings, a daycare for folks with disabilities, who also come out to help some mornings. Her crew also partners with the LNC’s camps. The garden is free and open to the public. “We love to educate the public. If there is something we don’t know, we’ll do our research and get back with you.” But above all, the garden provides a refuge from the city cacophony; it is a peaceful place to block out traffic sounds and quiet the mind.
“This is my vacation,” Janie says. “It fills my heart and makes me feel whole and tranquil. Even if I’m tired, the beauty and work is meditative. Even when I’m weeding, I’m mindful and present. I work with the best group of ladies around, and every week I leave feeling grateful to be a part of this.”