Location: 8909 W. 179th St, Overland Park, KS
Cost: Free until January 1, 2013; after that, please check their Web site for pricing
The Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are an undiscovered jewel in Johnson County. They are constantly adding new gardens with new themes to the grounds; when we visited in late April, they were working on making a train garden with an actual running scale train (this garden is set to open May 30). There are labels so you can identify plants and flowers that particularly appeal to you so you can attempt to replicate the gardens at home.
The Monet Garden is by far my favorite; it’s like a painting come to life. There are all sorts of flowers with their different textures and scents and tons and tons of butterflies. There are seating areas where you can sit and enjoy the sights, scents and sounds around you.
Next to the Monet Garden is a large pond with enormous fish. Since there weren’t any signs indicating otherwise, we broke out Sprout’s crackers and fed the creatures in the pond. The koi are large and brightly colored, but they are outnumbered by small grey fish that jump out of the water to get to the food you offer them. There were turtles in the water, too; when I tried to feed one, the food was knocked out of my hand by an especially eager fish!
The fish are one of the excellent auditory elements in the gardens. There are also waterfalls and other water features, other people passing through, and the sounds of nature around you. The gardens have birdhouses and bird feeders to encourage local songbirds to stay in residence, so there are often birds to be seen and heard.
There are a variety of surfaces to walk on in the gardens for those who need experience with surface changes. There are wide walkways that are easy to navigate, but there are also paths made of brick, fieldstone, gravel or mulch.
In the Children’s Garden area, we were delighted to find two raised beds marked “Please Do Touch.” These have the plant labels in both print and braille and are designed as sensory gardens for the blind. They’re about waist-high for a child. There is one raised bed with different herbs to excite your sense of smell, and a second with plants that excite your sense of touch.
The gardens and arboretum are far too large to explore in one trip, so there are many more things to find and explore than what I’ve touched on here. As long as you’re gentle, you are welcome to smell and touch what you like, and there are certainly plants here with rich smells and fun textures. They do recommend that you use bug spray due to mosquitoes and ticks; we avoided the wooded paths and managed to emerge unscathed, but there was a breeze that helped protect us from mosquitoes on the hunt. The Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are a beautiful spot with lots of elements that B/VI children and their parents can enjoy, and it’s definitely worth the trip.