Sensory Gardening Project Takes Top Prize

Sep 10, 2020

Sensory Gardening Project Takes Top Prize

Sep 10, 2020

Congratulations to the UC Master Gardener Program of San Diego County for winning first place in the Search for Excellence (SFE) competition! The SFE competition is an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the tremendous talents of UC Master Gardener volunteers from across the state. A panel of judges reviewed and scored fourteen county submissions about mission-focused educational and innovative projects performed over the past three years. San Diego County's Reminiscence Gardening project took first place and wowed the judges with its impact on participants, its low programming costs, and its ease of being replicated by other county programs. 

San Diego sensory group activity, handing out plants and supplies

Reminiscence Gardening

UC Master Gardener volunteers in San Diego County saw an opportunity to collaborate with residential memory care communities and Alzheimer's San Diego to provide sensory exploration and tabletop gardening activities for individuals living with dementia and their care partners. Run by a dedicated committee with co-chairs taking on the planning, scheduling and budgeting responsibility a team of volunteers is brought together for a one hour educational and hands-on activity.  Since the projects inception in 2018, and with the help of 50 UC Master Gardener volunteers, more than 1,000 individuals living with dementia and their family members, caregivers and staff have been able to participate.  Serving nine different residential care facilities across San Diego County the Reminiscence Gardening project provides step-by-step instructions for gardening activities that can easily be replicated at home.

Each activity has a team of UC Master Gardener volunteers who are prepped and ready to engage participants in a way that encourages social interactions, stimulates garden memories, promotes relaxation, and helps to relieve stress. With thoughtful planning and care, participants are paired with a UC Master Gardener volunteer, “garden partner,” who guides and assists them through a two part activity.  

Part One- Sensory Exploration. Participants explore various herbs, fruits & vegetables, and garden cuttings to activate different senses (sight, touch and smell). Large-piece puzzles and books with colorful garden scenes, plus seed packets and vintage garden tools are shared. The purpose of sensory exploration is to gently guide the resident to pleasant memories of being in the garden, outside in the fresh air or picking their favorite fruit.

Part Two- Table-top Gardening. With the assistance of their UC Master Gardener “garden partner,” residents retune gardening skills within their ability and create a garden in a pot, using colorful and seasonal plants. Specially designed tidy trays with soil, trowels, pots, and plants are available and disposable gloves are worn to protect against soilborne infections. The table-top gardening activity facilitates eye-hand coordination and creative expression. Participants take their new “garden” to their room or place it in the activity room for all residents and visitors to enjoy.

The Reminiscence Gardening project is funded through several sources which include a local community grant and donations to the program.  Funds are used to purchase durable goods to supply four team leaders with a full set of supplies to facilitate activities in their area. Activity consumables vary depending on the particulars of the activity, but a typical expense for 16 participants at a memory care community is around $75.

Virtual UC Master Gardener Mini Conference Sept. 29 - Oct. 1

Join us LIVE online for 2020 UC Master Gardener Virtual Conference, where you can learn more about this project directly from the volunteers involved. The conference is free and open to the general public, all levels of gardeners are welcome!  Sessions will stream LIVE, Sept. 29 – Oct. 1 to the UC Master Gardener Program's YouTube channel and Facebook page. Registration is not required, just pick and choose what sessions you would like to attend. All session are being recorded and posted on YouTube but we hope you can join in LIVE.

Pssst! UC Master Gardener volunteers can earn continuing education hours for attending, click here for more information. 

SFE San Diego Live ART

About us

The UC Master Gardener Program provides the public with UC research-based information about home horticulture, sustainable landscaping, and pest management practices. It is administered by local UCCE county-based offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of the University's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The UC Master Gardener Program is an example of an effective partnership between the UC Division and passionate volunteers. In exchange for training from the University of California, UCCE Master Gardener volunteers engage the public with timely gardening-related trainings and workshops. With programs based in 51 California counties and 6,297 active members, UCCE Master Gardener volunteers donated 328,540 hours last year and have donated more than 5 million hours since the program inception in 1980.


By Lauren Snowden
Author - Statewide Training Coordinator