Kim Elsert Simpson Sensory Garden open to the public at the Cliff Todd Center


A seating area at the back of the sensory garden welcomes visitors to enjoy a water feature.

Makaio Smith, Staff Reporter

The WKU College Heights Foundation recently opened the Kim Elsert Simpson Sensory garden to the public.

The garden is located right behind the Cliff Todd Center and is open to everyone from 7:30 am to sunset. People can also request to have a tour of the garden. 

They held a dedication ceremony on May 12th, honoring Kim Elsert Simpson with the namesake for the sensory garden.

Kim was gifted this namesake by her husband, Mike Simpson, and her son, Cleveland Simpson, as a Christmas gift. 

“It was the most thoughtful gift for me,” said Kim in an email interview. “One that I hope many other people will be able to experience.”

This garden allows people to not just view, but experience it. It caters to all of the five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing. The garden is sectioned out by sense with signs to identify what sense the section of the garden belongs to.

The taste garden is full of berries and herbs that people can pick and taste when visiting. These herbs from the garden can also be used for the WKU Office of Sustainability. 

Mike had heard from Donald Smith, President of CHF/WKUF/WKU REC – College Heights Foundation, that the concept of a sensory garden was being explored seeing as the property the Cliff Todd Center is on has a history with gardens.

“I explored this idea with Dr. Smith and decided to invest in a naming opportunity for Kim, as she is a Certified Master Gardener through the University of Kentucky Agricultural Department,” said Mike in an email interview. “I found this to be a good fit to name in her honor.”

The namesake process involved Mike making a gift to the College Heights Foundation.

“I had already committed a gift for the Cliff Todd Center capital campaign, so I just increased the amount of my gift to have the opportunity to name it for Kim,” said Mike.

The total cost to complete the garden was $50,000. It took a few months for the garden to be completed, confirmed by Dr. Smith. 

The design for the garden was originally from a student for a class project, from there it mofted again with the College Heights Foundation, and a landscape architect, Barry Lindsay, worked on it.

“We had a great team working on the design of the garden,” said Kim. “The finished product is so much  more than what we envisioned when we started.”

The College Heights Foundation waited until spring time to dedicate and unveiled the Kim Elsert Simpson sensory garden due to the winter weather.

At the dedication ceremony Cleveland Simpson, son of Kim and Mike Simposon, announced an additional commitment of $100,000 for an endowment to help maintain the garden. 

Kim hopes this garden provides an engaging space for anyone and everyone to enjoy. The garden is meant to be a garden for people to not just to view but also  to experience. 

“This is a place that can be explored, touched, tasted, listened to, and reflected upon,” said Kim. “This is a garden for everyone.”

Gardening plays an important role in Kim’s life. To her family gardening is more than just planting plants, It’s about legacy and passing on information as well as plants and skills.

“I associate memories of flowers and gardens with many relatives and neighbors I grew up with in my life so, adding some of the plants that I have from these people to the garden pays tribute to them,” said Kim. “My first memories are of my grandmother’s iris beds. I was so excited last week when my mom pointed out a  specific iris in her yard that came from my grandmother that I immediately dug up a piece of that iris to place into the garden.”

The garden has a combination of interesting plants, new features, and historic architectural pieces from WKU’s campus that creates an interesting space that will evolve throughout the seasons of the year.


“It’s crazy, but every time I visited the area from start to finish the space seemed to expand,” said Kim. “The whole property is beautiful and this special corner is a place that you can wander into and enjoy a quiet moment.”