Inside the Baton Rouge Sensory Garden, a hidden gem that’s three decades in the making

There’s an oasis of mint, basil, sunflowers and even okra right in the middle of the city. The recently completed Baton Rouge Sensory Garden inside BREC’s Botanic Gardens at Independence Park feels miles away from the cars passing through the surrounding Goodwood neighborhood.

The Sensory Garden has been a work in progress for around 30 years, and its transformation has continued since the Herb Society took it over about three years ago. With the garden almost completely refurbished, the society held a dedication of its ninth and final plant bed this past fall.

Today, all of your senses are immersed in the semicircle-shaped garden the moment you step inside. Each rounded, raised garden bed is designed to appeal to one of the five senses: sight, touch, smell, taste and sound.

The beds are themed. One is all about Louisiana cooking, with sprouting onions, cilantro, celery, basil, edible flowers and a large, tree-sized okra plant.

There’s a bed full of healing plants, growing things like peaches and garlic. There’s a mint bed showcasing—you guessed it—many different types of mint. Another is dedicated to lemon-scented herbs like lemon verbena and lemongrass.

The “Scarborough Fair” bed is full of English favorites, like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and even strawberries. There are beds with plants from Mediterranean, Asian and various Spanish-speaking countries, too.   

The last and most central bed in the garden is a work in progress, showcasing Louisiana native plants in an homage to Baton Rouge.

The garden beds and the plants themselves are distinguished by small signs identifying their names.

Volunteers are also working on planting more fruit trees. Currently in the works are two peach trees, multiple blueberry bushes, a satsuma tree and a fig tree.

“We want it to be edible things that people can pick off and eat,” says Herb Society education chair and garden volunteer Mary Williams.

They also hope the trees provide peaceful shade for garden-goers to sit under.

The goal, Williams says, is for the Sensory Garden to be a teaching place, and for people who usually wouldn’t know about plants to learn more.

“We want people to know that herbs aren’t just things you can cook with,” Williams says. “Herbs are there for use and delight.”

With as much planning and hard work the volunteers have put into the garden, nature has had its own say, too.

The okra wasn’t even planted on purpose, Williams says. The plant just showed up one day, possibly from a seed dropped by a bird.

It just so happened that it sprouted in the perfect spot for okra to grow in: the bed named “Louisiana cooking.” brec.org 

This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue of 225 magazine.