I get great pleasure from looking at my garden from my kitchen window but I enjoy it much more when I am there, experiencing it with many senses, not just sight. So, I thought one day, why not include elements that will especially please visitors with failing sight but with other senses perhaps more sensitive than mine?
Everyone enjoys the fragrance of flowers and the visually handicapped visitor may be more interested in different smells than a sighted visitor. The key here is to place fragrant plants in different parts of the garden so that they can be enjoyed individually and at various times of the visit. In addition, there are seasonal changes in fragrance as flowers bloom and die so we should provide for scent during all seasons. Here is a list of plants to tantalize the sense of smell:
A garden offers many opportunities to explore the sense of touch. As you look around your garden identify plants that have flowers, stems, buds, or leaves that can be described by one or more of these words: fuzzy, bumpy, slimy, rough, hairy, soft, papery, silky, fluffy, prickly, sticky, smooth, waxy, puckered, and lacey. What adjective would you use to describe a rose? soft? silky? smooth? It doesn’t matter which adjective you use as long as you take notice of the texture and enjoy its feel.
Plants parts also vary greatly in form. Leaves may be large or small, long and thin, or heart shaped. Flowers may be round like a daisy or bonnet shapped like a columbine. Consider also, that the whole plant has a form such as round, cascading or upright. Here are lists of plants that have interesting textures and forms or that have flower parts with interesting textures and forms. Try to associate one or more adjectives with each.
One caveat: all the flowers that are to be touched by a visitor should be free of pesticides and not poisonous. Very prickly or thorny plants should also be avoided. Exuberant plants should be pruned so that the visitor does not accidentally walk into to them and end up with scratched skin or torn clothing.
Be sure to include some seating to allow the visitor to sit and enjoy the garden. Make sure that you have provided some plants to smell and touch nearby so that the visitor can touch and smell the plants as he/she rests. The seating itself can provide a variety of textures, forms and temperatures. A metal bench provides a different experience from a wooden or stone one. Sitting in the morning sun is very different from sitting in the full afternoon sun or in the shade.
What would a garden be without sounds? If you want to attract birds provide birdbaths, bird feeders and houses, and plants that attract them. Put out corn for squirrels and enjoy their chatter. Plant trees to hear the rustling leaves, or bamboo for the knocking sound of their stems. Grasses blowing in the breeze will also provide a pleasant addition to the experience. Add a fountain and enjoy its splashing water, and wind chimes to complement the other sounds.
Here is a list of some plants for adding sounds to the garden:
Color should not be ignored. Although some blind visitors may not be able to experience color, others will. Many visually impaired people can see large bright splashes of color so keep that in mind when you plant your beds especially when you are planting annuals. Yellow portulaca or celosia, red salvia or geraniums, and orange zinnias or marigolds would all be appreciated. Keep the plantings big and bold!
This post has tried to show you some of the ways a garden can be enjoyed by a visitor with limited sight and is not intended to be a guide for a garden for the blind. Although many of the same plants could be used, they would be best appreciated if they were in raised beds and labeled in Braille. Some other considerations would be smooth paths, straight and clearly edged beds, handrails at stairs, and provisions for helping the visitor orient him/herself.
Go out in your garden at night and see how enjoyable it is even though you can not see most of it.
Let Us Know:
Have you had experience sharing a garden with a visually imparied person?
What suggetions do you have for the average gardener to make his or her garden more user friendly to the visually imparied?