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Lavender, myrtle .... and curry

A sensory garden is helping to soothe and stimulate pupils

* avender, myrtle and rosemary are helping to soothe and stimulate the senses of special needs pupils in an outdoor classroom at a West Wales school.

Experts at the National Botanic Garden of Wales have been drafted in to help teachers at Ysgol Heol Goffa, Llanelli, to grow a multi-sensory garden. Every tree, plant and shrub has been picked for its qualities of touch, texture, aroma and visual impact.

Nikki Symmons, deputy head of Ysgol Heol Goffa, and head of the school's multi-sensory unit, said: "The sensory aspect is an important one and we've used lavender because it helps to soothe and calm our pupils. Acer trees have spectacular textured foliage and viburnums also have a wonderful scent.

"We have myrtle and rosemary as well and even a plant which smells of curry. It is a pleasure for both teachers and pupils to take learning out into the fresh air."

The layout of plants and paths has been designed for wheelchair access. It is also eco-friendly. Parents have become involved in maintaining the garden and are developing a vegetable patch.

Trevor Roach, head of education and lifelong learning at the National Botanic Garden, holds courses to help schools move away from the tarmac and grass areas traditionally associated with playgrounds.

He said: "We must develop these areas for better playing and learning.

However, we must guard against having a fast-food restaurant type of school ground development where everything looks the same wherever you go. You must grow with a sense of place and belonging for the historical, cultural and geographical links of the school in the community."

The pupils themselves also provided essential clues on how certain areas should be used Janet Oyston, a profound and multiple learning difficulties teacher, said the garden had allowed the school population to integrate better.

"The many complex needs of our pupils makes it important for them to be outside to stimulate their senses," she said.

"It's fantastic for deafblind children, who have no concept of language, to be able to take off their shoes and feel the grass under their feet.

They can explore in a safe environment.

"Deafblind children rely on their tactile senses, so even a breeze can be a different sensation for them. For blind children, even traffic sounds are special."

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