Brain Injury Rehabilitation Specialists
Page Menu

OWL's Nest - A Garden for the Senses

Garden Transformation

The vision for a sensory stimulation garden for our Long-Term Skilled Care Program for Youth and Younger Adults began almost two years ago, when student volunteers and our recreational therapy staff learned of the invaluable benefits such a unique garden could offer. Now referred to as the OWL's Nest, a once weed-filled outdoor space, is now an area of healing and relaxation for persons served and families. With an accessible outdoor space to spend their leisure time, staff are able to assist brain injury survivors in their rehabilitation by promoting physical, mental and social development. With the help of employees and volunteers, the OWL's Nest now serves as a beautiful and functional space for all to use.

"The transformation so far has been amazing," says Dick Achenbach, administrator of the Long-Term Skilled Care Program. "But we still have more work to do to achieve our vision, including an idea to create an outdoor movie area. We've had so many people come together to make this outdoor garden a wonderful space for our persons served and families, it truly has been a team effort."

To view "Before and After" photos click here.


We are very fortunate to be able to offer a sensory stimulation garden for our persons served, families, staff and neighbors. The benefits of participating in outdoor activities are endless. According to research, individuals may derive a benefit simply from being in close proximity to plants and nature including reduced signs of depression, decreased stress, an improved self-esteem and personal growth. Benefits of the outdoors can also act in tandem. A therapy session in the OWL's Nest can cultivate a friendship with a volunteer, while simultaneously allowing persons served to achieve a sense of accomplishment by helping with yard work and improve their fine motor control. Persons served are able to utilize the garden for relaxation, sensory stimulation, and further development as they continue on their journey.

Sensory Items

The ring of chimes blowing in the wind; the silky petals of a vibrant, red tulip; the forgiving and grainy texture of sand against the bottom of your feet. The sensations created from our ability to hear, see, smell, touch and taste are those that take an ordinary space to a wonderful sensory experience. 


A variety of flowering plants can be found in the garden including:  roses, butterfly bushes, sedum, tulips, marigolds, gladiolus, petunias, lilacs, daffodils, black-eyed Susan, hostas, sunflowers and daisies. Our staff painted the wooden benches bright green, yellow, red and purple to further stimulate the visual engagement. Hand-made gazing balls, a kinetic spinner and small figurines were also added to surround the garden. Two angel statues were also donated, which led us to create a memory garden to honor those we have loved and lost.


Persons served can experience the textures from the fuzzy wuzzy lamb's ear plant, comparing the silky tulip petals to the waxy leaf of sedum, feeling the grit from sand, observe the smooth contrast of water from the fountain and difference in feathery textures of native grasses.


Persons served will hear the splash of water as it flows from the fountain, birds chirping, locusts singing, grasses and leaves rustling, the sound of a family member sitting down on a bench next to them, and the wind chimes as they blow with the wind.


Roses, lilacs, marigolds and geraniums all have a very distinct scent. Cedar wood chips also have a unique fragrance. The OWL's Nest allows for planting a variety of edible plants including, tomatoes, peppers, rosemary, lavender, cat mint and basil.

Proprioception and vestibular stimulation

Our wheelchair swing and textured pathways create experiences for persons served that they are likely to experience outside of a rehabilitation center.

Why Build a Sensory Garden?

Gardens are designed to stimulate the senses. In sensory gardens, plants and other design elements are selected with the intention to provide experiences for heightened sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. The ill or weakened can be enlivened and renewed physically, mentally, or spiritually by the array of plants and added features. Individuals with impairment of one or more of their five senses may find special enjoyment because they may have enhanced perception in their other senses. Sensory gardens can serve as beautiful places to relax, reflect, and inspire. 

The OWL's Nest would still be a dream if not for the philanthropy of others. Thank you to the following individuals and organizations who helped make the dream a reality. 

Lorene Bliss 
Libby Broekemeier
Julie Fidler Dixon 
Jeni Durfey 
Family of Alvin Pilcher
Family of Bruce Rasmussen
Family of Eric Hines
Family of Rachel Claseman
Family of Ryan Kluver 
Farm Bureau Foundation
Cindy Freidrichsen
Glenwood Resource Center 
Carl and Sally Harris
Home Depot
Jim and Pat Hust
Iowa Western Community College Dance and Cheer Teams
Mary Johnson
Dana Johnston
Kaplan Nursing Students
Kate Benson Larson 
Jeni Lewis 
Mills County

Mills County Community Foundation
Russ and Dorothy Nelson 
Ryan's Garden Treasures 
St. Albert's High School
True Value