Sensory garden slated for Nanaimo park

NANAIMO – Deverill Square Park could get a new sensory garden, thanks to a $9,000 park donation for the concept.

Eighty-two-year-old Pat Portsmouth wishes she could still enjoy one of the only green spaces available to Nanaimo’s south-end residents. But as soon as she started to lose her eyesight, she lost a reason to visit Deverill Square Park.

“People think handicapped means you are in a wheelchair [but] there are people who are completely blind and children with low vision and everything that is available there at Deverill Square Park is not available to us,” she said.

“It’s the only park we have in the south end, so it has to be diverse and readily available for everybody.”

The 82-year-old is working with South End Community Association and City of Nanaimo on early concepts for a new sensory garden at Deverill Square Park on Haliburton Street, which would allow Portsmouth and others to experience the space through a new lens. The work is being done thanks to a $9,000 park donation.

According to Sandra Larocque, a member of the south-end association, creating a space for the senses has been a longtime dream because although the park is wheelchair accessible, it’s not a haven for people with other disabilities like blindness and frailty. The garden would give a less-active part of the population a reason to take part in the social setting, she said.

In a sensory garden there could be benches facing the sun so people can feel the heat on their face, fragrant, colorful flowers, bamboos that knock in the wind and water features.

“We have elderly neighbours that do a lot in the area and it’d be nice if they had a place to sit in [the park] and just be and watch kids play and maybe hear the willows blow and instruments and smell the flowers,” Larocque said, adding the idea could eventually be a model for other city parks.

“There are lots of handicapped people that would like to sit down at the park but don’t feel there is anything there for them,” Larocque said. “[A sensory garden is] just this neat way of having something for everyone.”

According to Jeff Ritchie, the city’s manager of parks and civic facilities, the City of Nanaimo was thinking of using the $9,000 park donation toward something like park benches or picnic tables, but they are also open to the possibility of a garden people can enjoy through sight, sound, touch and smell.

“It is a novel idea,” he said.

Ritchie says the community association’s garden concept is currently over-budget and would need to be low maintenance and fit within the range of offerings already in the park. City staff members met with the south-end association yesterday to explore designs for the new project.