Listening IN the Garden: Expanding Nature Engagement ~ Ordering Sensation

In a recently published article for the Journal on Active Aging (Seven barriers to life span engagement: health and well-being across generations and natural physical environments) I related how physical activity enhances quality of life for older adults, while adding outdoor settings and children to the mix magnifies these benefits.
Unfortunately, myths and assumptions about activity across the life span and "sense-a-bility" may limit opportunities for this ‘recreational’ therapy.  The letter below (offered to me--with permission to share--by a colleague in the field of "Child and Nature Education") underscores how "therapeutic and sensational" a garden can be to activate discovery learning.  

As you look at the images just imagine how exciting something like a “Seeing~Sound Garden and Labyrinth” would be to stimulate organs of sensation, hearing, harmony and awakening innate capacities:
Mary Keppler                  

Elementary Programs Coordinator 

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Miami, FL


I had the most amazing visit at Tropical Elementary yesterday. I wanted to share some of this beautiful story I with all of you. I was welcomed to the school by Ishtar and Ms. Maggie who met me at the office. They escorted me to Mrs. Palma's classroom where four other students were seated at a round table, one of them typing on a Braille machine. Mrs. Palma teaches visually impaired and blind students who are in kindergarten through 2nd grade. When I asked these students what they like to do in the garden they all shouted "to read!" They find a cozy chair and soak up the sun while exploring the garden with their sense of touch. This is why we do what we do. The opportunities provided to these students through their inspiring teacher is why I entered this field and I couldn't be happier to share the experience with you all. Mrs. Palma also sent some gifts, a lovely calendar featuring artwork from visually impaired and blind artists, a handmade card and cute watering can candles.
Studies show our ability to navigate our environment is largely dependent on our knowledge and recognition of landmarks and sensation adaptation.  For sighted people the landmarks we use are nearly always visual (or accessible through visual-based technology). 
We know where we are because we recognize our personal 'landmarks' such as the corner store, the office tower, the city park, the mountain in the distance, the river, lake or coastline or our "geo-navi apps" describe where and how to go.
However, for the blind and vision-impaired an exploration in a garden-setting can challenge orientation and navigation. Creating reference points as both audio and vibratory landmarks that could be almost as reliable as visual markers is an easy design:  soft Illumination features and targeted vibro-acoustic (TvA) sound tubes positioned in strategic places along a path or garden (particularly with water elements) can create a resonating vibro-acoustic map to offer an adaptive means of navigation and sensory stimulation.



The sense of smell has been classified and employed in garden settings -- with the fragrance of flowers providing primal cues.  A team at the University of Porto in Portugal found that eight general terms for scents (citrus, floral, green, fruity, herbaceous, musk, oriental and woody) could work as families to which more than 2,000 specific scents could be assigned.   See classifying smells (_ 
(Alírio Rodrigues and his colleagues compiled an extensive list of scent descriptions from existing databases used by the perfume industry. The team then plotted these eight families onto a map that resembled the plots on a radar screen.  Dr Rodrigues then tested what the group calls its “perfumery radar” by presenting it with four essential scent oils: orange, lemon, jasmine and thyme...)
So it's intriguing to progress toward a system of  understanding based on constraints of different primary senses.  For instance, starting with sound and exploring how Euclid's geometry (supposedly independent of sight/vision) has been heavily influenced by the ability to visually observe the world.  In that manner, would it be possible to build a geometry of smells or of sound?  How might a group of blind people construct the concept of a garden labyrinth for example? 
A preliminary exploration of these questions has started with the STEM process team I recently worked with on EarthDay 2011 in the new Platinum LEED Engineering Bldg on the campus of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton).  Consulting with Dr. Daniela Popova’s Calculus Team, we focused on a Eco-Rooftop Therapy Garden Design that addressed areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and incorporated environmental, social, economic and health principles in sustainability. 

The “Eco-Classic KR Therapeutics Garden” layout featured empirically-proven therapeutic hardscapes such an
Ancient Walking to Primal Rhythms Acupressure Path, Ashiyu and Labyrinth (max size -- 3 circuits) that has been developed for therapeutic garden applications.  Shown in the image above is a projected rooftop design. 
Below are close-up and long range images of the garden:




This facility features a learning laboratory garden to serve the university, local K-14 students, and the general public as a showcase for “green” building and system design strategies and building management practices.









Reputed to be the first academic building in southeast Florida to be designed and built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum level standards.


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