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A Garden Grows in California’s Bay Area


It’s nothing extraordinary, really, just a few beds of daisies and sunflowers, groves of pumpkins and tomatoes, and rows of snow peas, kale, carrots onions, mint, rosemary, thyme and basil to brighten the landscape, like buckets of Kool-Aid rain, poured from the sky.

The magic, though, is not in the garden but in its gardeners, virtually all of them wheelchair users: the vision-impaired boy with his entire face buried deep inside a cinnamon-color sunflower, taking in the splendor of its smell and texture; a boy with Down’s, giddily raking the soil for the very first time; the girl taking that first bite from a tomato she’d helped grow, and every one of the kids–every single one–absolutely loves shucking corn. Patricia Ogura, a special education teacher at the combined high-school and middle school in the hamlet of Hercules, about 10 miles northeast of Berkeley, California, speculates that its the rhythmic motion of the shucking, the texture of the corn stalks, and the ripping sound, which all combine to stimulate the kids’ senses and imagination.

“Oh, I remember the very happy girl playing in the planter bed, just running her fingers through the soil, and another student smiling and so happy, holding onto a small bouquet of flowers. When I saw that, and other photos captured by their teacher [Mrs. Ogura]…I just started crying ”, said Maddie Yuen, the former president of the Parent-Teacher Organization, whose daughter is a graduate of the high school.

The Hercules Sensory Garden is testament to how the five senses most of us take for granted–to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to touch–can help us develop, to grow, as human beings. And just as importantly, it shines a spotlight on all that is possible when even the tiniest community makes up its mind, bands together and creates.

Said Ogura: “I know it’s just a garden but when you look at how much the kids get from it and you look at the effort the entire community put into it, the Sensory Garden is really nothing short of a miracle.”

The story begins with Ogura, who was staring at a parcel of school property that was choked by weeds one day early in 2017 and wondering what she could do to help the middle school and high-school’s “medically-fragile” enrollment –mostly children with Down’s Syndrome or congenital birth defects that impairs vision, hearing, speech, motor skills or some combination of all four.

Everyone who knows her describes Ogura as a “go-getter:” so she went and got it. First she convinced school administrators to buy-in to the idea. They did, but with a caveat: Ogura would have to raise the funds.

Undeterred, Ogura approached the local Boy Scout troop for help with budgeting. They came up with a figure and wi