Welcome to the Sensory Garden!

Enter the Sensory Garden through a tile-covered archway, slow down, breath in, and allow nature to stimulate your senses.

Here, fragrance is usually the first noticeable effect: sun-warmed foliage and flowers offer natural perfumes to contemplate and enjoy. Next, listen carefully: birds and insects flit by, attracted by the nectar-producing flowers of lavender and sages. Touch the foliage in the raised beds as you pass through. Some are pungent, such as the leaves of lavender and rosemary, and some are fuzzy, such as the lamb’s ears. View the color combinations: the bright and flashy hot pokers and salvias, or the subtle greens and blues of ornamental grasses and herbs. Look carefully for the edible plants, with oregano and thyme under three varieties of citrus and a Grecian bay tree.

Other attractions include a granite water feature that provides lively sounds and touchable water movement, a restful seating area surrounded by walls decorated with handmade donor tiles, and a California natives section featuring habitat plants for local wildlife. The curving, waist-high planter walls are capped with a smooth-edged brick that can be followed through the gardens, facilitating movement for the visually impaired. These experiences offer visitors a memorable connection to nature, right in heart of Oakland.

The Sensory Garden History

Lavender Sensory GardenOriginally developed in the 1970’s as the Herb and Fragrance Garden, thirty years later only a few of the original plantings had survived due to years of budget cuts. Noticing a great need for refurbishment, members of the Oakland East Bay Garden Center Inc. decided to take action. Spearheading the project, Board members Susan Veit, Dick Austin and Bruce Cobbledick enlisted Tricia Christopher, Landscape Architect, to draw up an overall plan. Working in tandem with the City’s Public Works Agency and members of the Hillside Gardeners of Montclair, the garden was completely renovated in 2004-5 and renamed the Sensory Garden. The Merritt College Pruning Club offered pruning expertise, and Merritt College instructor Bill Castellon and his students artfully reconfigured boulders left over from a defunct waterfall. A new water feature was installed by landscape architect Paul Cowley, and beautiful handmade donor tiles were crafted by Dianne Farber.

sensory6Truly a public-private collaboration, additional contributors included The California Garden Clubs and the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club Charitable Foundation, while city council members Nancy Nadel, Ignacio de La Fuente and Pat Kernighan tapped their discretionary City of Oakland PayGo accounts for additional funding. The East Bay Municipal Utility District provided a state of the art irrigation controller to promote water conservation. Since then, dedicated community volunteers provide ongoing garden maintenance, mornings on every third Saturday of the month. Come join us!

volunteers_planting_lavenderA dedicated community volunteers provide ongoing garden maintenance, mornings on every third Saturday of the month. Come join us!

Sensory Garden Recent News

  • Lavandula_angustifolia_'Munstead'

Lavender For All Your Senses

Article by Tricia Christopher, Landscape Architect and Designer of the Mediterranean and Sensory Gardens

Lavenders are featured prominently in the Sensory Garden, with their own “Lavender Hill” in the center of the garden. Here, drifts of several lavender varieties in beautiful shades of blues, purples and whites provide distinctive herbal fragrance.