How to Design a Sensory Garden for the Blind or Visually Impaired
With a little care and thought you can design a sensory garden especially for the blind or visually impaired.
Even if we are born with sight, accident or illness can rob us of our ability to see, at any time in our lives.
If someone close to you is unable to see, and you have a garden or yard, you can greatly enhance their quality of life with a sensory garden which lays emphasis on the remaining senses, which can bring back some joy into their lives.
Our main senses are sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste, so while a sensory garden would concentrate on all 5, a sensory garden for the blind concentrates on just 4.
This means that the garden does not have to be visually attractive. Bright colorful flowers are no longer a necessity.
Even weeds won't bother us too much, except where they threaten to overcome our plants.
Smell - scented plants
When we lose one sensory sense, it is often said that the others increase.
Our sense of smell would therefore be heightened.
Apart from the obvious - growing scented plants, we should have a grassy area that requires mowing.
What is nicer on a summer evening than the scent of new-mown grass?
Grass is only desirable if there is someone there to cut it for the blind person, but it is certainly a place for their guide-dog to frolic on.
Sound - water features and birds
A water feature is highly desirable in a sensory garden for the blind. The gentle trickling of water is a delight to listen to when all our senses are working. If we shut out eyes and listen to it on a hot summer's day we can get some idea of how much a blind person would appreciate it.
A garden pond is not a really a great idea because of the danger of the blind person accidentally stumbling into it, but a water fountain, or a bird bath, would greatly enhance the auditory senses.
Birds with their never-ending and delightful birdsong can be encouraged into a garden simply by planting a few bushes and trees.
Touch - plants without barbs that are safe to touch
Try to plant thornless roses and bushes if you can. Prickly plants have a role in the garden, mainly for protection from intruders or because they are visually attractive.
To the blind, however, they are positively dangerous, if they cannot be seen.
Likewise poisonous plants. While we visually identify many common poisonous plants in our garden, the blind may not know they are there.
There could be an accidental ingestion - licking ones hands after handling oleander, for example, springs to mind.
While people born blind have lived their lives knowing to be wary of everything, and to not lick their hands, newly blind people will slip back into their old habits of a lifetime, and so extra care has to be taken.
Some plants can make a person very ill indeed by just a taste of their sap.
Taste - edible plants
Edible plants can include strawberries, raspberries and other cane fruit, as well as vegetables, herbs and spices, or fruit trees.
Ripening fruit put out a very distinctive and attractive smell, which would heighten the pleasure a blind person could have in their garden.
And not just at harvest time, apple and cherry blossom in the spring fill the air with scent and the promise of a harvest to come.
Productive gardens have a very 'earthy' smell, which changes little throughout the year and would bring enumerable pleasure to a blind person.
Garden safety and raised beds
Assuming the person is completely blind, and lives alone, then you may wish to consider designing and building raised bed gardens which can be easily tended.
Raised beds should be made of concrete, and provide an area along the top for sitting on.
The garden should be designed with ample walkways, with special attention paid to having the ground as flat as possible, with no protrusions a blind person could trip over.
It is probably better to pave the area between raised beds, making sure the concrete is well-laid and completely flat.
You may wish to consider building in a slight slope to allow rain-water to drain off quickly as a blind person will not be able to see puddles of water to avoid them.
Make sure no tools are left lying around for someone to trip over, nor flower pots placed on a walkway, except off to the side.
Ideally pathways should be bordered with aromatic plants, whose scent is released when brushed against.