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Gardens for the Mind

We’ve written a lot in this blog about the universal nature of horticulture and particularly how, with a little creativity, anyone can enjoy a garden, no matter who they are – that there’s some stimulation to be had, no matter what. This week we’re focusing on the sight impaired and particularly how you can tailor your garden for one suffering such a disadvantage. 

image of Thrive Project logo

The statistics of sight impairment are more sombre than you might presume – over 2 million people in the UK suffer with serious sight disorders and 100 more are diagnosed every day. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the RHS is using the ‘Thrive Project’ as a means to show how a new-found disability can be integrated with a healthy love of gardening.

image of raised beds and central water feature

One of the major philosophies of the project is not to identify gardeners by their disability, and to recognise that they are still people who should be treated with the dignity and respect that the title warrants is paramount. Therefore, it is recommended that if your garden is to cater to the visually impaired you prepare it accordingly, with practical measures to make their experience as comfortable as possible. With this in mind, one should consider as few changes in levels as possible in order to avoid the difficulty that uneven walkways might afford. 

image of red water feature

Another creative and practical measure is the inclusion of a central water feature as the sound it creates will serve as a kind of central anchor to those who might not otherwise be able to navigate the space. Handrails can be an ugly addition to any garden, so instead try to construct beds and walls at waist height that they might be followed by hand.

image of honeysuckle

Construction aside, you also have the planting scheme of your garden to consider, because, while we might consider the colours and shapes of our flowers to be their crowning glory, that might be only because we’re never forced to primarily address our other senses in the garden. Consider aromatic herbs such as Coriander and Mint, or flowers like Honeysuckle to stimulate the olfactory sense… 

image of textural grass

and also those textured cultivars that are so pleasing to handle, like Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ or Stachys Byzantine. 

Finally we have our auditory senses – the sounds of a garden, I would propose, are probably the most vivid and vibrant second only to the sights, which is why I reiterate the value of a fountain or stream, or the inclusion of large bamboos to provide percussion to your living orchestra with their leaves and canes moving in the wind.

image of seeing eye dog and owner

On a practical level, ensure you’ve a toileting area such as a small lawn or sandy area that Seeing Eye dogs might utilise and provide watering holes for them too. It’s also important to note that some common garden plants that are quite safe to humans can be quite toxic to dogs – Rhododendrons and Azaleas, for example, can cause severe breathing difficulties and even death if ingested, so do be careful with your plant selection.

This is only a cross section of what is essentially an infinite field of creativity and planning a garden for the sight impaired need only be as a limited as your own imagination.

By Josh Ellison

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