When a local priest had his leg amputated a while back, Theresa Kelly would wheel him in his chair through Edenmore Park, she says.

“To me, it was boring because you could just wheel him around in a circle on the tarmacadam,” she says. “There was nowhere for him to engage with anything.”

That got her thinking, she says. What might a more interactive garden look like? One that was engaging for all kinds of people, including wheelchair users, people with sight issues, or people with special needs.

That’s when Kelly struck on the idea of a “sensory garden” – a garden that “caters towards taste, feel, touch and smell”, she says.

How, though, would they fund it?

Bit by Bit

“I wanted something that was special and unique to Edenmore,” says Kelly, last Friday, sitting behind the counter at A Lending Hand.

She points to a series of coloured plans posted onto the window.

A Lending Hand changes through the year. It sells festive things leading up to Christmas, Communion wear in the spring, and is a charity shop in the in-between times.

On Friday afternoon, just after lunchtime, the shop is a hive of activity. Three young children scavenge through plastic boxes for toys.

One of the girls settles on a small purse, the boy on a box of a coloured markers. The eldest is in charge of the money.

“You tell me how much you owe me,” says Kelly, coming out from behind the counter and bending down to the eldest. “This is two and this one is one.”

The girl hands her three, says thank you, and they all run out of the shop.

“Oh, I love kids,” says Kelly. “They’re great. They come in here all the time and never make a mess.”

Others pop by for things like wool, since McAloons, a wool shop over the road, closed down.

If they couldn’t come in, people would have to go into town, says Kelly. Or worse, some of the more elderly people mightn’t bother at all.

“It’s like a meeting place for some people,” she says. “The whole community use it. It’s a brilliant community here. They’ve such big hearts in this area.”

It’s also one of the many community funding streams for the sensory garden.

Something for Everyone

Sensory gardens “strive to maximise the sensory impact that the garden has on its visitors”, say plans in A Lending Hand’s window. They “encourage garden guests to touch, taste, admire, and listen”.

Kelly talked to all kinds of people as she drew up the plans, she says: parents of children in wheelchairs, the National Council for the Blind, elderly people in the area.

What they said informed the plans for the garden. “I asked their parents what they like, and they said they like touching things, they love to smell them, and it just built up a thing in my head,” says Kelly.

The garden would have raised beds high enough for people in wheelchairs and the elderly to easily reach, so they could participate in the garden – through touching, or planting – and feel it was for them too.

“A zigzag path has to go in with space for wheelchairs,” says Kelly. There’d be regular bays so one wheelchair could pass another. Plants and trees would be signposted in Braille.

The idea was also to create a place where people could go out and meet one another, says Kelly.

“You see, there’s an awful lot of people that are lonely, and they won’t engage with other people. But everybody loves gardening, or they’d love something to do with wildlife,” she says.

Building Excitement

In 2016, St Malachy’s Association Football Club’s old clubhouse on Springdale Road was demolished. It left a mess, says Kelly.

“Everytime I walked by it I wondered: would they give me that to make it into a garden?” says Kelly.

The land was owned by St Malachy’s AFC. She began by asking Dublin City Council’s North Central Area Office to help her get it.

For 18 months, the council worked to buy the site, Kelly says. “We eventually got the land, and the good news is, the contractors are going in to clear it for me. [T]hen we start planting the sensory garden,” she says.

After that, it’s up to the community to chip in to make it happen.

Photo by Sean Finnan

“There’s been a really good response to it,” says Linda McDonnell, a volunteer at A Lending Hand.

Since the plans went up in the shop’s window, excitement has been building, she says.

Georgina Byrne, a member of Edenmore Residents’ Association, said it’s the drawings that grabbed people’s attention. “Yeah, you need to see the visuals of it,” she says.

The sensory garden will help reinvigorate the area, says Byrne. “It’s bringing a sense of community back in, and pride.”

This is already happening, says Byrne.

Earlier this month, the community raised €1,500 at a family fun day at Edenmore Shopping Centre.

Local shops have sponsored benches in the garden, says Byrne. Tradespeople are lending their skills too.

Proceeds from A Lending Hand are also going towards the garden. Both Kelly and McDonnell volunteer at the shop, so its own running costs are low.

Kelly wants the garden all done and open fast. “The end of September, if I have my way,” she says.

Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

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