Sensory Gardens: Designing an Outdoor Space for the Blind
If you or a loved one is living with partial or full blindness, creating an outdoor space that appeals to the four other main senses – smell, touch, taste and sound – can be a great way to enjoy spending time outdoors and embrace the therapeutic benefits gardening can bring.
However, designing a sensory garden for blind or partially sighted individuals does require some additional care and consideration – and in today’s post, we’ll be sharing our expert design insights for creating a safe and tranquil haven that can be explored without putting anyone in harm’s way.
Smell – create beautiful fragrances
When designing an outdoor space for the blind or those with diminished sight, there’s less emphasis on opting for brightly coloured flowers and plants that have a striking visual impact.
Instead, sensory gardens focus on maximising the effect on other senses and smell is a fantastic place to start. Selecting plants with a pleasant and distinctive aroma will create a welcoming outdoor area for the visually impaired, but with a heightened sense of smell, it’s worth ensuring they aren’t too strong and overwhelming.
Delicate fragrances like fuschia, honeysuckle, blossom trees, lavender and other herbs are popular choices for sensory garden plants and can also aid in locating different areas of the garden through smell.
Sound – add interesting noise
As with all our senses, sound can be very emotive, so enhancing sounds within your garden design is essential to layering the sensory experience. From the delightful trickle of running water to continual birdsong and the wind rustling through the trees, be sure to factor these pleasant and often overlooked audible experiences into your sensory garden.
Adding a water fountain, bird bath or both will bring a beautiful auditory element and encourage birds to frequent the garden. With the addition of bird-friendly plant life and feeders, the natural chorus will be a continual feature to enjoy, whatever the season.
It’s also possible to utilise other audible features like wind chimes and bells that, when positioned well, can be an effective navigation guide for those with poor or no sight.
Touch – add texture with fauna
Plants, shrubs and bushes bring a myriad of wonderful textures, sounds and smells with them, but when it comes to sensory garden plants, opting for non-barbed plants is a must. With the emphasis on exploring through touch, a blind person wouldn’t be able to see thorns, burs and prickles on plants like roses, thistles and holly, which could potentially cause them injury.
Similarly, avoid poisonous plants. While these can easily be identified by sight, a blind person wouldn’t know they were touching something poisonous that could accidently be ingested by licking their hands, for example.
As part of the touch experience, design flower beds that blind people can easily touch and tend to themselves. Shallow, raised plant beds with sturdy sides that can also be used for seating will provide easy accessibility for individuals with diminished or no sight – especially with neatly planted rows and easily identifiable plants that feature distinctive textures and smells.
Taste – incorporate edible plants
To complete the sensory garden experience, make use of edible plants to tantalise taste buds outdoors, too. Planting a variety of edible plant life is a great way to heighten the overall feel of outdoor spaces – giving them a complete sensory experience.
Juicy berries, ripe fruit, freshly picked herbs, spices and vegetables will all deliver a welcomed taste sensation – just be sure they are easily accessible and avoid any prickly variants where possible.
Put health and safety at the fore of your design
Safety should be at the core of any sensory garden design for the blind, ensuring the space is specifically catered to those with restricted or no sight – allowing them to easily navigate through the area with no hazards.
Simplicity is key here, design the space with ample pathways that are straight and flat to avoid any tripping incidents. Outdoor patio tiles make the ideal material for hard-wearing and low maintenance pathways in sensory gardens and with non-slip materials, they will reduce the chance of slipping when wet – particularly when laid at a slight tilt to allow rainwater to drain away.
Bordered with raised beds and hand rails where needed, pathways should guide people through the garden using sensory techniques to differentiate specific areas of the garden. You can also use different textures on walkways to notify a change in direction or topography – for example, a coarser texture of outdoor tiles could indicate approaching steps.
It also goes without saying that pathways should remain clear and clutter-free at all times. Keep gardening tools tidied away and avoid free-standing plant pots or features on paths that could cause a tripping hazard. Also, remember many blind people rely on memory in familiar surroundings, so always make them aware of any significant changes to the garden layout or design.
With the right design, a sensory garden can be the perfect way to bring the natural beauty of the garden to life for those with poor or no vision. With this post, we hope you’ll find plenty of advice and inspiration to bring your dream sensory-focused outdoor space to life, to create a magical outdoor area with all the accessibility needed to cater for the blind.
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