Gardening can be a fun way to grow your own food, enjoy the outdoors and create something beautiful to share with friends and family. Spring is an excellent time to make a plan, buy some seeds, and dig into the dirt. Adapting gardening for people who are blind or visually impaired can involve containers, raised garden beds, adaptive labels and assistive products. Let’s get started and cultivate your green thumb!
Container gardening is a particularly easy, fun way to get started growing plants of your own. Flowers, herbs, and many vegetables grow well in containers. Container gardens are easy to water, easy to manage, and need little weeding. Container gardening makes identifying plants easy, you can grow your garden in small spaces, you can use high quality soil, and it makes moving your garden location an option.
There are over 50 talking book titles on container gardening through the National Library Service. At BARD (an app through the National Library Service), “Search the Collection” for container gardening, or contact the Wisconsin Talking Books and Braille Library at 800-242-8822 and talk to a librarian.
Planting a garden in a garden bed allows for a larger area in which to grow plants, as opposed to a smaller space provided by containers. You will find your garden easier to manage and traverse if it is laid out in the shape of a square or rectangle, with straight paths and borders around planted areas. Creating or making note of landmarks around the garden are useful to help you navigate. Shrubs or trees, scented or tactile plants, items such as benches, and sound – from rustling plants, running water, or wind chimes – can all help serve as landmarks.
Keep your beds narrow or about one yard deep. This keeps plants within reach and you do not have to step on the soil to reach your growing plants. This will give an edge to dig inside and also make planting easier. Consider using raised garden beds, as these bring the soil off of the ground, reduce the need for digging, and make any digging that you have to do much easier. Planting in raised beds can make it easier to navigate around your plants and reduces the risk of stepping on plants.
Although scented plants are a bonus, don’t have too many, as a mass of scent might be confusing. When putting in seeds or transplanting young plants, put popsicle sticks along the seed row or next to the transplants. As the plants mature, the popsicle sticks give a clue about desired plant location. Plants away from the popsicle sticks are likely weeks. With some sighted help at first, you can practice recognizing common weeds by touch. Get to know your favorite plants in your garden by touch and smell and you are less likely to weed them out by mistake.
Cover beds with a thick mulch, such as newspapers, and with a layer of homemade or commercial compost. Worms and micro-organisms will help break the soil down and the mulch will help stop weeds growing. Alternatively, lay down a weed-suppressing membrane in permanent beds with perennial plants, and plant through slits cut in the material. Cover the membrane with a mulch such as bark or gravel.
The Sharper Vision Store at the Council has Braille labelers or waterproof raised paint you might find helpful when labeling plants in your garden. Some labeling techniques include:
- Use labels in large print or braille to mark containers.
- The labels can be placed on the containers themselves or on markers made of wood or metal which can be bought from garden stores or made from popsicle sticks.
- Waterproof tape and markers can be used to create your own large print labels.
We also carry the Big and Bold thermometer, so you will know when to put transplants into the ground or move indoor plants outside to your garden. A talking tape measure can be used while building raised garden beds and figuring out how far apart to plant seeds. The store also sells kitchen products for preparing your garden-fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs, such as the finger guard and the high contrast cutting board.
Making notes about your garden can help more easily maintain growing plants, since you can keep track of location, type, and scheduling for the garden. The Sharper Vision Store has large-print paper available in notepads and single sheets. Audio notes can be stored on the Wilson digital voice recorder. Braille notes can be quickly made with a slate and stylus.
Visit the Sharper Vision Store at 754 Williamson Street in Madison on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Thursdays from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. You can also shop online at store.WCBlind.org.
Need inspiration for your garden? Sensory gardens may contain features accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired such as: scented and edible plants, sculptures and sculpted handrails, water features designed to make sound and play over the hands, textured touch-pads, magnified screens, and braille and audio descriptions. Many areas around the State have sensory gardens to explore.
There are many sensory gardens in Wisconsin. Here are a few:
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
3330 Atwood Avenue,
Madison, WI 53704
Rotary Botanical Gardens
1455 Palmer Drive
Janesville, WI 53545
608 W. 17th Street
Marshfield, WI 54449
- UW-Extension offers Master Gardener programs; find one in your area: wimastergardener.org
- Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired Gardening Webinar
A garden can grow food, inspire beauty and foster relaxation. By reading this article, you have taken the first step to creating the garden of your dreams. What will your garden grow?