Located in a quiet, wooded section of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, the Polly Rogers Memorial Sensory Garden opened to the public on Saturday morning, May 22.
Attended by family members and supporters, the virtual ceremony marked the official public opening of Polly’s Garden, which was built to celebrate the life of UNC Charlotte student Polly Rogers, who died in May 2018.
For Polly’s father, Tim Rogers, Polly’s Garden is a worthy memorial to his daughter, who was studying special education in the University’s Cato College of Education.
“The project is about the timeless quality of kindness and beauty, and inclusion and diversity,” Rogers said. “It is about reclaiming natural spaces and providing a learning environment.
“The garden captures and reflects Polly's energy to give back to the world now and for a time to come,” he said. “It’s a place of healing.”
Designed to offer a therapeutic environment for children with autism and other disabilities, the garden is a place where they can engage and stimulate their senses through interactive play — and provides a peaceful, safe and therapeutic sanctuary for all people, regardless of ability.
Accessible by stone trails and brick paths, the garden, located inside the Van Landingham Glen, was created to engage and stimulate the five senses through plantings and interactive artistic elements. The magical space is contemplative and idyllic as well as purposefully colorful, whimsical and fun, in keeping with Polly's spirit.
"The Gardens' staff, volunteers, and everyone who helped create Polly's Garden have been touched by this experience,” said Jeff Gillman, director of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens. “We are proud that we have been given this precious opportunity to bring Polly's spirit to the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens and the people of Charlotte."
In Polly’s Garden, the university community and the broader community will find health, said Nancy A. Gutierrez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.
“This is such a fitting legacy, and I thank the Rogers family for their intuitive recognition that this is the perfect space to remember Polly and her passion,” Gutierrez said. “I believe the sensory garden is a reimagining of the garden of earlier times, when humans and nature were much closer together. English Professor Jennifer Munroe calls this a ‘remediation of something that has been lost to human life.’ In a sensory garden, then, we find spiritual and physical well-being.”
Polly was described as “energetic, bright and engaging.”
“She was excited about the Special Education program and particularly enjoyed time spent in the classroom with students,” said Lisa Gaskin, pre-education advisor and education learning community coordinator for the Cato College of Education.
“Our hope is that the garden will serve as a living memorial to the joy she brought to life and her goal of working with students with special needs,” she said. “This living legacy will allow the community to honor her life and memory for years to come.”
Designed by UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens’ landscape architect Edward Davis, the garden includes interactive musical artwork by Rick Dior, stonework and paths by Johnny Massengale of Ponders Inc., and nine garden art pieces by Vickie Jo Franks. Bartlett Tree Experts helped to prepare the garden site for planting. Funding for Polly’s Garden was partially provided through Keep Charlotte Beautiful and a crowdfunding effort by the UNC Charlotte Foundation.
Polly’s Garden may be accessed through the trails in the Van Landingham Glen or through the fully wheelchair-accessible Bonnie Cone gated entrance on Mary Alexander Road.
The Virtual Opening Ceremony was held online via Facebook Live on the Botanical Gardens’ Facebook page.
Also, as part of media coverage of the opening, WSOC’s Allison Latos spoke with Tim Rogers about the Polly Rogers Sensory Garden.