WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield High School junior Clara Christian spent Saturday planting a variety of grasses, plants and flowers in a 2,500-square-foot section of Mindowaskin Park — a sensory garden to be enjoyed by the public.

Veronica’s Garden is dedicated to Christian’s cousin Veronica, who lives in North Carolina.

“Veronica is 14 and has down syndrome, and we’ve always had a pretty special relationship,” Christian said. “She’s the sweetest person, and super kind. I wanted to do this garden for kids with special needs, but wanted it to represent Veronica so it could be more personal.”

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Veronica’s Garden is the culmination of Christian’s Girl Scout Gold Award.

“The first thing I did was research about sensory gardens, which are designed to stimulate the senses, mostly for kids with autism,” Christian said. “We added grasses to incorporate the sound aspect, lilac for scent and perennials of contrasting colors, which is really visual.”

She also plans plant lamb’s ear for touch in a drier part of the garden.

“The garden has three separate sections,” continued Christian “There’s a circular section with a sundial, then two trapezoids on either side. We decided to carve out a center with grass that you can go through, so it’s more like an actual experience.”

Christian credited Westfield Town Administrator Jim Gildea for assisting in the initial concept, Dreyer Farms of Cranford for help in selecting the right plants and flowers, and Scape-Abilities of Scotch Plains for assistance with garden design and tilling that allowed for easier planting. Priscoe Irrigation also donated services, Mayor Shelley Brindle noted.

Christian also had planting help from friends and family, members of her Girl Scout Troop 40879 and the Community Service Club.

The mayor was on hand Saturday.

“Veronica’s Garden has been an incredible undertaking by Clara that the town has been thrilled to help bring to fruition,” Brindle said. “It is a tribute to her character and vision that she was able to pull together so many volunteers and donations to make this project a reality. As we reflect on our 300th year, I believe Veronica’s Garden will be remembered as one of the most impactful and enduring legacy projects.”

Christian hopes that Veronica, who is considered immunocompromised because of heart and lung issues, will be able to come visit New Jersey and experience the garden named in her honor once the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.

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