A New Sensory Garden for Outside the Box

Earlier this year, the Indiana Chapter of ASLA (INASLA) embarked on a partnership to design and install a sensory garden for a local non-profit, Outside the Box (OTB). Located on the north-side of Indianapolis, OTB is a provider of day, employment, and art services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. OTB views the 200 participants as capable individuals who can enrich their own lives by contributing to their community.

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In July of 2011, OTB moved from a 3,000 sq ft office building into a vacant 14,000 sq ft facility. Within the first two weeks they doubled the number of staff and participants they served. They renovated the interior to make the facility feel as comfortable as possible, including classrooms, an art studio, and The Community Room – a large group gathering and multi-purpose room. While the interior renovations are complete, the campus grounds have gone untouched. Of greater consequence, the classrooms and Community Room overlook a central courtyard space which has gone into a state of disrepair. An idea emerged to create a sensory garden – a universally accessible space that uses colors, textures, sounds, scents, and plants to accentuate the senses.

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Serendipity was on our side. OTB reached out to an ASLA member to solicit designs of a sensory garden. Simultaneously, the Indiana Chapter was exploring ways to engage the Year of Public Service initiative. And so began the partnership to design and install a new sensory garden at OTB’s headquarters. INASLA’s Public Service Committee visited OTB to observe a typical day while meeting staff and participants. Early on in the process it was agreed the best plan of action would include hosting a design charette to develop end-user consensus.

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OTB staff share ideas for the sensory garden with landscape architects.

On the morning of February 23, INASLA hosted a charette in OTB’s Community Room. Thirty-five individuals participated including landscape architects, landscape architecture students, OTB staff, and family members of OTB participants. Four break-out groups, each comprised of a least one landscape architect, one student, and one person representing OTB, developed site plans which were later presented to the rest of the group. The results were expressive and full of creative ideas! Ideas from all four concepts were incorporated into the final design. The Chapter is currently seeking out local vendors to donate materials and time to help realize the new garden.

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During the last weekend of April, which coincides with National Landscape Architecture Month (NLAM), the project will culminate in a one day work session made up of volunteers from the Indiana Chapter, Student Chapter members from Ball State University and Purdue University, OTB staff, participants and family members. Check back in late April to see installation-day photos and the completed project!

*Photos and story via INASLA.

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