Seeing with Other Senses: Gardens for the Blind

Gardening offers blind plant lovers the opportunity to connect with nature, relax and grow food and herbs*

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Lavender, just a touch will release wonderful odors.

Blind Gardening Opportunities
I first became aware of the subject of blind gardening when my friend Kitty, now blind after years of deteriorating eyesight, expressed a wish for some plants in her life. I gave her a few scented herbs–lavender, oregano, mint and sage–and suggested her husband plant them in a barrel, thinking that exhausted the possibilities. How mistaken I was, for that was just the beginning. Kitty wasn’t satisfied just to sniff and touch, she wanted a real garden, a place to gather herbs for use in her kitchen. I asked a blind friend if she had any suggestions I could give Kitty’s husband to make a proper garden his wife could enjoy. “Why can’t she make her own garden?” she asked. I realized that I did not have any idea how the blind carry on their daily lives, let alone make gardens. I embarked on a journey to an unknown world.

Rosemary, wonderful for smell, touch and taste.

Rosemary, wonderful for smell, touch and taste.

10 million blind and visually impaired in the US
There are approximately 10 million blind and visually impaired people in the United States. “Blind” ranges from totally sightless to the legally blind, who have vision worse than 20/200 (20/20 is normal) that glasses cannot correct. How many are gardeners? No one knows, but I became acquainted with three (and heard about many more) whose inspiring stories gave me insight into the tremendous power of touch and fragrance.

Hellen KellerHelen Keller Story
Deaf and blind Helen Keller once observed that people were surprised that she could enjoy nature. It is really they, she said, who were blind, “for they have no idea how fair the flower is to the touch, nor do they appreciate its fragrance, which is the soul of the flower.” Those who have lost their sight develop their remaining senses to a heightened degree the sighted cannot imagine. Try walking through your garden with your eyes closed tight. At first you might be lost, but with experience your other senses will begin to guide you.

* Jo Ann Gardner is a writer, gardener and cook living in the Adirondacks of New York.  Her latest book, Seeds of Transcendence: Understanding the Hebrew Bible Through Plants.  Read more about Jo Ann and her latest book.
To order this book or see other books by Jo Ann Gardener, go to

Sources for seed and materials.
Gardener’€™s Supply

128 Intervale Rd.
Burlington, VT 05401
1 800 ­427 ­3363

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