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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Introducing CAMH's sensory garden

New interactive garden promotes mindful engagement in daily living activities

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
- John Burroughs

Any reason is a good reason to get outdoors during the spring and summer months. The summer picnic program and the Sunshine Garden’s involvement with the community market are two great examples of CAMH initiatives that encourage staff and clients to take a breath of fresh air.  

New to CAMH is the freshly sprung sensory garden. With the goal of providing a calming sensory experience for those involved, this garden is much more than a place of beauty. “I often refer to the sensory garden as the healing garden,” said Phyllis Wong, an Occupational Therapist in CAMH’s Mood and Anxiety Inpatient Unit. “I suppose that’s because of its therapeutic effect.”

Phyllis works in the garden
Phyllis works away in CAMH’s sensory garden.

With funding and support from CAMH’s Gifts of Light Comfort Fund, Phyllis took the initiative to bring the sensory garden to CAMH last year. She did her research and learned of the benefits this type of space can have on those struggling with mood and/or anxiety disorders. “As an Occupational Therapist, I’m always looking for new ways to help clients find success in developing skills for everyday life,” she explained.

The healing powers of the sensory garden

The goal of a sensory garden, she told us, is to stimulate one or more of the five human senses (sight, taste, hearing, touch, and smell), and to offer clients an alternative healing environment away from the unit. “It’s been proven that working with plants can evoke a sense of achievement, and pre-vocational skills such as attention span and sense of responsibility can be improved upon, too,” said Phyllis.  

“The sensory stimulation helps those engaging with the garden to pay attention to the task at hand. This is especially important for clients I work with who are often overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety.” 

Phyllis illustrated the healing power of the sensory garden when discussing one client in particular. “She was very anxious and often described being in constant physical pain,” she explained. “She agreed to help with the garden by watering the plants and told me afterwards that she felt at ease the entire time.” Paying attention to the task at hand and being mindful of the present can be a very effective way to regulate mood and anxiety.

A garden designed to engage your senses

The garden, rectangular in shape, is filled with a variety of different plants that engage the human senses in different ways. A pathway made from woodchips invites people to walk through the garden, experiencing the plants and stimulating different senses in the process. 

Dragon Wing Begonias
Dragon Wing Begonias are just one of the visually appealing plants that engage human sight. Others include Supertunias, Black-eyed Susans, Daylilies, Calendulas, and Butterfly Bushes.

Chamomile plant
The Chamomile plant is typically used to make tea and is one of several plants in the sensory garden that engage the human sense of taste. Basil, sage, chives, and oregano are others.

Nasturtium Dwarf Jewel
Not only is the Nasturtium Dwarf Jewel easy on the eyes, but it’s edible, too!

Feather Reed Grass makes soothing noise
Phyllis has researched creative ways to engage hearing at the sensory garden. Feather Reed Grass, especially when fully grown, makes a soothing noise as it sways with the breeze.

Lamb's Ear
Lamb’s Ear is a unique plant that’s unbelievably soft to the touch.

Smells make sensory garden a pleasant place to be
The smell of Lavender, basil, sage, or even just the fresh woodchips on the ground, all make the sensory garden a pleasant place to be.

Although Phyllis took the lead on creating CAMH’s sensory garden, she would like to thank clients, colleagues, volunteers, and community partners such as the Parkdale Green Thumb Enterprise, FoodShare, Young Urban Farmers, and State Street Corporation for all of their help. Phyllis asked us to give a special thanks to Andrea Stauber, a horticultural therapist and former CAMH volunteer, for her assistance in designing the garden.

Volunteers stand in the sensory garden
Volunteers from the State Street Corporation stand in the sensory garden during its early stages.

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