Would you enjoy an oasis of peace in your yard or on your balcony? A simple garden can be that, whether it provides food for your table, flowers for your vases, or habitat for birds and insects. And vision loss need not be a barrier to enjoying gardening as a soul-enriching hobby.
Council Executive Director Denise Jess has gardened for years and has experienced firsthand the many rewards of growing things. “It’s well documented, and I know from my own experience, that being in nature and having creative outlets are two powerful ways to reduce stress and to self-reflect,” she says. “Reflecting, staying calm and managing stress are so important in my role as a leader and in managing the extra stressors of navigating a world set up for sighted people.”
Council Program Assistant Judith Rasmussen also finds gardening a relaxing hobby. “I grew up on a farm and always worked with plants, both helping my father in the fields and growing flowers around the house,” she says. “Digging in dirt is fun and relaxing to me.
“When I was young, I could see, so I know even the green of leaves can be of different shades,” Judith says. “As my vision decreased and disappeared completely, I started using my fingers to know how to take care of plants. I sometimes feel the dirt to see if they need watering, but I also have them on a schedule and know which ones only need a little every few days, like the orchids, which I’ve been told ‘don’t like their feet wet.’”
Many avid gardeners who are visually impaired have developed methods and tips that can help both others with vision loss and fully sighted gardeners. For example, Denise is a big proponent of raised beds. She has three of them, each fifteen square feet in area and waist high.
“These standing beds are a wonderful accommodation for me as someone with both vision loss and chronic back pain,” Denise says. The higher beds are also less vulnerable to weeds, she adds. She plants greens in one of them, strawberries in the second, and herbs in the third. A fourth bed at ground level is reserved for tomatoes.
Denise buys mature sets of tomato plants, which helps her distinguish between the tomatoes and the weeds through smell and feel.
Judith now lives in an apartment, but that doesn’t stop her from growing vegetables outdoors in pots on her balcony. Indoors, she tends at least thirty species of plants, including cacti, geraniums, basil, ivy, aloe and orchids.
If gardening sounds like a hobby you might enjoy but haven’t tried yet, the Council’s Sharper Vision Store carries a variety of products that can help you get started. For example, we have braille labelers and waterproof raised paint for making tactile labels you can use to identify your plants, and a talking indoor/outdoor thermometer you can use to monitor planting conditions.
If you’re already a gardener seeking to continue your hobby as your vision declines, our vision services staff is great at brainstorming strategies for keeping your thumbs green. That applies to other hobbies as well.
Denise, a confessed foodie, notes that there really are no downsides to gardening.
“If I pick too many green tomatoes, I can always use them to make salsa verde,” she says, smiling.