By Andrea Cordle
Grove City High School senior Mason Warner was close to his grandfather, Jim Warner. As a child, Warner would walk the few blocks from his home to his grandparents’ home. He and his grandfather (Papaw) would then walk down Park Street to Graeter’s.
On their way back from the ice cream shop, the pair would stop for a rest at Sesquicentennial Park, a small pocket of land on Park Street, next to the intermediate school.
When Mason Warner was 6 years old, his grandfather developed a form of Alzheimer’s disease. He died in the fall of 2010.
When Warner was deciding on what to do for his Eagle Scout Service Project, he kept his beloved grandfather in mind.
“I wanted to do something meaningful,” said Warner. “I wanted it to be hands on.”
The Scout, part of Troop 385, decided to build a sensory memory garden for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders. Not only did he want to build the garden, he wanted it in a special location – the park on Park Street where he and his Papaw would spend time.
According to Warner, who spent a lot of time researching his project, nature helps those with Alzheimer’s to recall memories. A sensory memory garden is designed to stimulate the senses, which could trigger memories. Warner said the garden also promotes physical movement and social interaction.
Warner began this project in the spring of 2012 and finished this year. He constructed five, small retaining walls to build raised planters then erected a large, raised planter so the plants are at eye level. Warner included bright, stimulating plants like bee balm, butterfly weed, purple coneflowers and lamb’s ear.
“My favorite is the lamb’s ear,” said Warner. “It’s soft, like a lamb’s ear. Papaw was always touching this.”
The garden also includes azaleas and more than 300 perennials so the plants can sustain year after year.
Warner worked on this project with help from the city of Grove City and the Alzheimer’s Association of Central Ohio.
Paula Taliaferro, the facilitator for the Alzheimer’s support group out of the E.L. Evans Senior Center in Grove City, said the garden is unique.
“I think this park is a fantastic idea,” she said.
Taliaferro said those with memory impairments need more stimulus than the average individual. The sensory gardens should have brightly colored flowers that attract bees and other insects. According to Taliaferro, those with memory disorders tend to have tunnel vision so it is important that the garden include raised beds at eye level.
She said Warner chose plants that are familiar, not exotic.
“You want that familiarity factor,” said Taliaferro.
When building the sensory garden, Warner was also sensitive to the special needs of those with Alzheimer’s disease. He included rock walls with texture, softer textured benches and a wide, circular passage.
“People with Alzheimer’s can feel trapped in corners, so I wanted to avoid corners and keep it round,” said Warner.
The city of Grove City donated the material for the sensory garden.
“Mason did the lion’s share of the work,” said Kim Conrad, Grove City Parks and Recreation director. “I’m glad we were able to help him out.”
According to Conrad, Sesquicentennial Park, less than one acre in size, has been on Park Street since 2003. She said it had plants and a small plaza, but Warner’s project brought the park a new purpose.
“He really did a wonderful job,” said Conrad. “This is the first specific sensory garden in Grove City.”
The city will maintain the park.
Warner said he hopes Alzheimer’s disease patients, as well as others with memory impairments, will enjoy the garden and that it will provide a safe and social setting. He also envisions caregivers gathering in the garden to talk to one another.
“I hope it brings people together,” said Warner. “The people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, I want them to come here and talk to others so they will know they are not alone.”
Taliaferro said she has recommended the sensory memory garden to members of her support group. She said she is planning a picnic and fall party with group members this fall.
In total, Warner put in 341 service hours for the project. He received his Eagle Scout badge on his Papaw’s birthday.