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How to Design a Sensory Garden for the Blind or Visually Impaired

I've been an online writer for over seven years. As an expert gardener, I enjoy sharing my knowledge and techniques with others.

A sensory garden in Lawrence, Kansas

A sensory garden in Lawrence, Kansas

Designing a Sensory Garden Focused on Smell, Sound, Touch and Taste

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.

The Senses

Our main senses are sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste, so while a sensory garden would concentrate on all five, a sensory garden for the blind concentrates on just four. 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.

This article will examine ways you can create a sensory garden that will allow for the visually impaired or blind to experience the same joys as everyone else, using:

  • Smell: Scented Plants
  • Sound: Water Features and Birds
  • Touch: Safe to Touch Plants
  • Taste: Edible 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.

Asda helps Age Concern grow a sensory garden for the blind and partially sighted in Harrogate, UK.

Asda helps Age Concern grow a sensory garden for the blind and partially sighted in Harrogate, UK.

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 our 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.

Choose soft-leaved plants for the "touch" aspect of the garden.

Choose soft-leaved plants for the "touch" aspect of the garden.

Touch: Safe to Touch Plants

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 one's 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.

San Antonio Botanical Garden

San Antonio Botanical Garden

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Paul from IOM on November 28, 2018:

(First post)

I have volunteered to assist in the construction of a large area of ground creating different zones for the visually impaired/blind and one of these areas includes a sensory garden. My gardening knowledge probably rates 4/10, but I can read, follow diagrams and have a keenness to help others. I will also have to produce a policy and look at the health and safety requirements and would like to ask for guidance on this.

I wish to express my delight in seeing this excellent article and would love to discuss this in further detail if possible?

Thanks, Paul

GardenExpert999 (author) from Scotland on May 10, 2012:

I hate when 'public gardens' have a sensory garden area as they always seem so inadequate, and little thought has gone into their design, but with just a little bit of effort, we could easily create a mini paradise for the visually impaired - that will, as you say, be enjoyed by all.

HauteWindowTrends from San Francisco Bay Area on May 10, 2012:

Love it, this is something many of us rarely think of when designing a "beautiful" garden. There's not a single person alive no matter what handicaps they may have that wouldn't enjoy a garden you've described here.

GardenExpert999 (author) from Scotland on March 30, 2012:

Thanks! It is really important to focus a sensory garden for the blind on the other senses apart from sight.

vidhya on March 30, 2012:

reali good.:)

GardenExpert999 (author) from Scotland on March 26, 2012:

Thanks Eileen :) It's just common sense really, isn't it?

Eileen Goodall from Buckinghamshire, England on March 26, 2012:

This looks and probably smells like a brilliant garden, I came across one last year that was absolutely useless they obviously need to contact you for advice. Voted up.

GardenExpert999 (author) from Scotland on March 26, 2012:

My garden on a new estate never had birds for the longest time, but now they have returned and it is wonderful to hear, especially early in the morning.

And you are right, bees and pollinators make sounds too that are lovely to listen to if we are not frightened of them.

@Frog Princess, that sensory garden sounds wonderful, well done you for doomating :)

Sandiaview from New Mexico on March 26, 2012:

Smell is our most memory-evoking sense, and it's a shame we designers don't use it more, in every garden and project that we do. Along with smell (and the brightly-colored flowers that we should still use), come pollinators, such as bees and hummingbirds, which have their unique sound. No danger here...they will move out of your way! How fun to walk into a garden that's full of smells and sounds: what a gift for everyone.

The Frog Princess from Florence area of the Great Pee Dee of South Carolina on March 26, 2012:

Here in Florence SC we have a Sensory Garden and the design is so pretty. It has a beach with waves, fish pond and butterfly garden. It is used for cancer patients and their families but is open to the public. I donate to it several times a year as the seasons change.

GardenExpert999 (author) from Scotland on March 26, 2012:

Thanks for the comment :) Concentrating mainly on sound and scent is really important if you lose your sight, probably a lot more so than touch or taste when it comes to garden design.

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on March 25, 2012:

I really enjoyed your topic and all of the wonderful ideas. Sometimes I like to close my eyes and imagine the garden. You have made me aware of so many things I hadn't considered before. Thank you for your great hub!