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Gardening with Disabilities: Gardening for the Visually Impaired

6/23/2011 4:52:45 PM

Tags: gardening with disabilities, gardening, visually impaired, blind, square foot gardening, Susan Hoysagk

Susan HoysagkSusan Hoysagk is a seasoned nurse who, when not busy "nursing it up," can be found gardening, experimental cooking with fresh organic herbs and veggies from her garden, reading, writing and rearranging her yarn stash. 

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses." ~ Abraham Lincoln 

Sometimes it seems it is easier to be on the pessimistic side, the "glass is half-empty" point-of-view side instead of seeing the wonderment, joy, positive, "every cloud has a silver lining" take on our lives and world. Gardening is no different. There are times I walk out into my garden and only see what I haven’t done instead of all the beauty for me to just sit back and enjoy. I focus on the weeds or flowers that need deadheading instead of the sounds of the frogs and birds or the sweet smell of flowers, freshly mown grass or musky earth. Finding ways to do and enjoy meaningful activities is important to having a quality life even if some changes have to be made to do so.  

Creating and customizing barrier-free or enabling gardens makes gardening possible for all ages and disabilities, including those who are visually impaired. Part of the design needs to ensure the gardener’s safety, such as level and clearly defined paths with distinct borders or edging. Raised beds are more accessible and make a visually recognizable garden structure for orientation purposes. Those same raised beds with notches cut every six inches along the frame make it easier to plant by feel and help with spacing. A metal grid over the planting area at the soil line with one-foot areas also helps with plant spacing and will eventually be covered by the growing plants. Mel Bartholomew has been using and teaching his Square Foot Garden (SFG) method since the early 1980s and now has a non-profit organization. These SFGs can be located anywhere, are economical, efficient (100 percent of the crop in 20 percent of the space), easy to protect from pests and weather, and Earth friendly!  

Coleuses (Solenostemon) are easy care plants with vivid colors and they work well in pots! Photo By Susan Hoysagk. 

Bright colors, such as yellow, are good for those who are visually impaired. Incorporating various textures (fine, coarse, rough, smooth) makes the garden tactilely friendly and enjoyable. Thorny plants or those toxic to touch should be left out, but some succulents are pointy without being a threat to tender fingers. Other plants that are safe and have wonderful textures are lamb’s ear, sage, hosta and many ornamental grasses. Herb plants have texture and wonderful scents (and are edible, a wonderful plus!). Speaking of scents, bring them on with Nicotiana, Sweet Peas, Dianthus, Hyacinth, Wallflowers, Chocolate-scented daisies, mints (oh please put them in a pot or you will have them literally everywhere!), or any of the many fragrant flowers available.  

Lambs ear 
Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine) adds beautiful silvery contrast and is soft like its namesake. Bees love the tiny purple flowers!  Photo By Susan Hoysagk. 

Ornamental grasses and plants with seed pods also provide sounds for the visually impaired. Also chimes (don’t go overboard or pleasant will quickly become annoying), small waterfalls or fountains, and certain trees add pleasant and relaxing sounds to the garden for everyone to appreciate. I have paper-bark birch trees (Betula papyrifera) in my backyard and the sound of the wind ruffling their leaves is so soothing while providing shade and attracting birds and other wildlife. A sense-sational refuge for everyone! 

The Square Foot Gardening Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity whose purpose is to end World Hunger by reaching out to families and teaching them how to grow healthy food for their daily meals, thus improving their diets and getting the family interactive with each other. 

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