The goal of a sensory garden for the visually impaired is to place emphasis on stimulating the other senses. Focusing on the other senses can help to enhance them, allowing the visually impaired to compensate for the loss of their sense of sight. This goal is particularly important for the newly visually impaired and children who are learning the skills necessary for them to better function in their daily lives. Relying on their other senses, learning to orient themselves and navigate through outdoor spaces are vital life skills.
In addition to this practical goal of improving the remaining senses, sensory gardens that engage, stimulate and focus on the other senses can bring great joy to the visually impaired. Wysocki (2010) researched the favourite places of visually impaired individuals for spending their leisure time. He found that green areas, parks and forests were mentioned most frequently as their favourite places. When these individuals were asked to describe beauty, they talked about flowers, parks or nature most frequently. In addition to these findings, Wysocki found that visually impaired people described the smell of greenery as their favourite scent, ahead of both food and perfume.
Tips for designing and implementing gardens for the visually impaired
The first aim of designers and builders of sensory gardens for the visually impaired is to make the space as safe as possible for the user/s. If you are designing for one individual who is confident in the environment, their needs will be slightly different than if you are designing for a number of visually impaired people with varying skill levels and experience.
The second goal of designing a sensory garden for the visually impaired is to focus on heightening the sensory experience of the individual users through the choice of vegetation and the inclusion of appropriate, stimulating hardscape elements.
Designing a safe sensory garden
There are a number of key ways you can make your sensory garden more accessible and safe for visually impaired users. You should consider each element of the garden you are creating. For example, using the right kind of paths can make or break the regular gardening experience of users.
For a list of safety tips and principles, please see our resource, ‘Design Principles for Sensory Gardens’ (coming soon).
Designing a sensory garden experience for the visually impaired
In designing your sensory garden for the visually impaired, you will be aiming to maximise the experience of interacting with nature. You want the garden to be invigorating and stimulating, whilst also being relaxing and not too overwhelming. Sensory gardens can be a place of refuge from the stresses of the busy everyday world. Gardening gets us back to our roots; cultivating the soil and being independent, self-sufficient and enjoying the beauty and stimulation of the natural world.
Having ensured that you have made the garden as accessible and safe as possible, you have already made sure that the users can be confident and relaxed in the space. You can now focus on your plant and hardscape inclusions that stimulate the other senses of touch, sound, taste and smell.
Really, you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to heightening the sensory experience in your garden. Usually, visually impaired individuals will be more strongly attuned to their other senses and by enhancing the elements of your garden that cater to this, your users will be richly rewarded.