College Heights Foundation opens sensory garden


The College Heights Foundation has opened a sensory garden at the Cliff Todd Center on Chestnut Street. This is the entrance to the garden.

Makaio Smith, Staff writer

WKU’s College Heights Foundation recently opened a sensory garden at the Cliff Todd Center on Chestnut Street to the public.

The Kim Eisert Simpson Sensory Garden is located behind the stately mansion that serves as home to the foundation and is open to everyone from 7:30 a.m. to sunset, the foundation said. People can also request a tour of the garden at 1703 Chestnut St.

The foundation dedicated the garden with a ceremony on May 12, honoring Kim Eisert Simpson as its namesake.

A sign welcomes visitors to the Kim Eisert Simpson Sensory Garden at the College Heights Foundation’s Cliff Todd Center.

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

“It was the most thoughtful gift for me,” said Kim Simpson, who is a master gardener, 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 also 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 each section explores.

The taste garden is full of berries and herbs that people can pick and taste when visiting. WKU’s Office of Sustainability uses the herbs from the garden for other uses at the university.

Mike Simpson had heard from Donald Smith, president of College Heights Foundation and the WKU Foundation, that the concept of a sensory garden was being explored as the Cliff Todd Center, built in 1898 and known for years as Birdlawn, 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,” Mike Simpson said in an email interview. “I found this to be a good fit to name in her honor.”

The namesake process involved Mike Simpson 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,” he said.

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

The design for the garden was originally from a student for a class project and the College Heights Foundation brought in a landscape architect, Barry Lindsay, to work on it.

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

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

The College Heights Foundation waited until spring to dedicate and unveil the sensory garden because of the winter weather.

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

Kim Simpson said she hopes this garden provides an engaging space for everyone to enjoy. “This is a place that can be explored, touched, tasted, listened to, and reflected upon,” she said. “This is a garden for everyone.”

Gardening plays an important role in Kim Simpson’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,” she said. “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 plants, features and historic architectural pieces from WKU’s campus that creates a 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,” Kimn Simpson said. “The whole property is beautiful and this special corner is a place that you can wander into and enjoy a quiet moment.”

News reporter Makaio Smith can be reached at [email protected].