Sensory Garden Ideas, Please

CzechChick(z5IL)February 15, 2005

My son and I would like to plant a "Sensory Garden" for people of all abilities. What inspires us the most is making it completely accessable to the blind. We are currently working on a plant sale using winter sowing techniques to benefit Canine Companions for Independence.

We've never done this before, and it is very important to us that we get it right. Any plant suggestions, design ideas, or ways for us to get grants or finacial assistance would very much appreciated. Also ideas for braille markers, etc.

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Blind_Aquilegia(ZN 5b IL)

Hello, Czechchick & Son,

What a great and thoughtful idea!

I have been totally blind since my twenties (about 20 years) and have been an avid gardener for about 4 years. This year I am also Winter Sowing for the first time.

At this writing I don't have too much time, so what I throw out at you may be a bit random! Just ideas that pop to mind immediately. Please understand that I am very excited by your project and would like to help in any way I can. Maybe I can be your guinea pig blind person!

So here are my random brainstorms:

1. Smell. Fragrance is definitely a focus in my garden although not exclusively. Scented geraniums (pelargoniums) are wonderful. Pineapple sage, other scented sages, mints. My garden doesn't yet have too many fragrant perennials, but I have chosen bulbs (hyacinth, tulip, and daffodils) specifically for fragrance. Mums were already here and do have a sort of spicy scent. Lavender, of course, dianthus, thyme, and lemon balm. I have selected several fragrant shrubs, perennials, and annuals from a wonderful on-line nursery called Flower Scent Garden. Check out Glen's funny catalog for ideas. Also check out the Fragrant forum here at GW.

2. Touch. Oh, yes, I do love to touch. I'm trying Teddy Bear sunflowers this year which are supposed to be furry like  well, like a teddy bear, I suppose. Lamb's ears as well. My husband has shown me a few other things at the nursery that are fun to touch  but I don't remember the names. Personally, I like the common, lowly impatien as a touch experience. The flowers have very distinct little nubby centers and then they form those exploding seed pods. It was so funny the first time one of those "buzzed" after I nudged it. Also, I like touching the following: natural stones, stone statuary, moss, seeds.

3. Sound. Wind chimes, chinese gong, water feature or fountain.

4. Sight. Keep in mind that not all "blind" people are entirely blind. And some of us want to know what color the flowers are even if we can't see them. For me, when someone tells me what color the blooms are, I "see" the flowers in my mind as I touch and interact with them. In my case I do have a memory of color and it was an unexpected surprise that gardening would so strongly help my recall of color.

5. Taste  well, you could let folks chew some mint or basil!

6. Getting close. It might help to think in terms of how to help blind and disabled people get close to plants comfortably. In my own yard I'm on my knees a lot, but in strange settings that may not be so easy. So how you arrange beds, containers, etc. will be very important. You may want to have plants in containers or raised beds that bring them up closer to someone who is standing or in a wheel chair.

7. My personal pet peeve. I'm not a very good candidate for passive observation. For me I'd want to get my hands in the dirt  transplant a seedling  water something  arrange several plants in a container, etc. That's just me, but it's like the old saying, "Give a hungry person a fish, and she'll eat for a day. Teach her how to fish, and she'll eat for a lifetime." I'd rather teach the blind and disabled that they, too, can garden if they'd like to learn.

Again, I'm willing to help in any way I can. Sorry that this doesn't contain direct links to Flower Scent Garden, but it's hard for me to do that in a message


    Bookmark   February 16, 2005 at 11:00AM
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Very good. Also try rosemary as a shrub for variety of the scented garden. Thyme comes in many essences, so do mints, some plants have unusual leaves such as santolina, which would be a pretty contrast next to lamb's ears. Sages also have varied leaves and feels. Tastes and textures can include vegetables. Textures such as anything as delicate as a petunia to the largeness of a huge sunflower..I make banks of thyme for sitting and use it in paths to step on. Also use it beneath garden benches. The flowers attract bees so sometimes trimming is a good idea.. EP

    Bookmark   February 16, 2005 at 6:48PM
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Thank you so much for responding! I read your post on the Winter Sowing forum earlier this month. You are such an inspiration to me. You really have no idea.

My son and I are huge dog lovers. We live in a condo and can't afford to own a dog so we have cats. We can't imagine what it would be like to depend on a dog, the way I'm sure you depend on Winna, and have that dog become ill. (Harvard educated! lol, No, Winnas education was much more intense than Harvard, more like West Point! Her PhD stands for Pup has Discipline.) With that in mind, all the money we earn we want to be used for the vet bills of a service dog already assigned to someone. We had been looking for a way to raise money for Canine Companions since early last year. Our boys are in 4th grade and the traditional ways of doing a fundraiser were too complicated or required too much money up front. In July I discovered winter sowing.

I must admit to being ignorant in thinking that someone who is blind can't really see the beauty of a garden. You probably see everything that in my ignorance, Ive been missing, like texture and scent, like the sound the wind makes when it passes over the long threads of ornamental grasses or when it glides through the limbs of a willow tree. Thank you for reminding me that my idea of beauty is not the only way that beauty can be seen. Hopefully, Ill be able to teach this lesson to my Cub Scouts.

Nathan, my son and I had planned on bringing all the left over plants from the sale to a nursing home. After reading your post that changed. I told my husband that I thought that we should do a small sensory garden with the scouts. Hes Nathans Den Leader. Hubby said he loved the idea, but he wants Nathan to do the garden as his Eagle Scout project. So the garden that was supposed to be a small corner of a local nursing home, has now taken on a life of its own. We may still do that for this year, but I have a feeling that in order for us to have all the features we want to include in our sensory garden, we could be working and planning for more than a year.

If you allow me to pick your brain, you would be the one I go to for help with plant description as well as selection. I think it would be a great lesson to go to another garden with the scouts blindfolded and have them try to find a specific plant or feature using only verbal cues. Something Id like to try myself!

You mentioned taste. When you smell strong herbs, like basil, cilantro, oregano, can you taste it? Ive always thought of our senses as being inter-related, like onions makes your eyes tear, chocolate makes your mouth water, spicy foods make you feel warm, and the smell of the litter box can make my son take off like a gazelle. Ive also noticed how sometimes when I cook, my husband will walk in and take in the aroma by taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, like closing his eyes will make it smell better.

You also mentioned wind chimes and a Chinese gong. Both are very fun ideas. Most of the parks in our area do not have water and electricity, making a water feature more difficult. The park that Im hoping to get into does, it also has quite a few raised beds that are surrounded by seating.

As soon as I have a chance, Ill check out Flower Scent Garden and let you know what I already have that would work and what I might get. Again, thank you so much for everything! Give Winna a hug for me, ok?


    Bookmark   February 16, 2005 at 7:29PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

Little wild strawberries have both scent and taste. So do some grape varieties. Feijoa and Ugni molinae have pleasant scents and are edible, too.

For a water feature, see if anyone you know can make a clockwork mechanism to lift water, or use a small hydraulic ram.

Raoulia is very pattable, as is Scleranthus biflorus.

Lawn chamomile might be safer than thyme because it doen't flower - and bees love thyme flowers. Pleasant to brush against. Pennyroyal is also aromatic when walked on.

Peppermint geranium, with it's furry leaves.

And citrus flowers/fruit.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2005 at 5:10AM
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