By Charlotte Mellor
With Spring in full swing and the sun beginning to peep from behind the clouds, Easter is a perfect time to get out into the garden and start planting. A sensory garden has many benefits for a child who is visually impaired. It can be a great way of introducing new sensory experiences and a very holistic way of learning about nature.
Gardens are a sensory delight but much of the emphasis can be placed on the visual aspects. I therefore wanted to help create a small sensory garden box for Scarlett to explore which she could appreciate using her other senses.
There are three types of ways that a fragrance can be given from a plant. One, where the fragrance fills the air, intimate scents or touch activated. For the purpose of this project I could only obtain plants which gave off a distinct smell constantly and decided to go with Lavender and Rosemary.
When I chose the plants I closed my eyes and handled them to see how different they actually did feel. It can be quite surprising to find that many very different looking plants can in fact feel very similar, so this was a good way to investigate.
With children who have low vision, high contrasting colours would be a great way to improve their ability to see the flowers. Sight impairment can vary from child to child, so when deciding if there are any colours that can be seen it would be great to include flowers which can do this.
Wind chimes are a great addition to any garden! Add one to your box and the child will be able to hear the wind.
For the sake of this project I was unable to include any plants that produced food, but if your child is anything like mine she was very happy to stuff a hand full of soil into her mouth and lick a leaf. It would be great to do a ‘grow it and eat it’ scenario for our next gardening project.
Okay, so what did I do!
I bought a herb planter, I thought this would be a good place to create the garden as the partitions could help Scarlett to feel around the perimeter of the plant so she could section it off in her mind. This only cost me £10 from my local independent garden center.
Next, I bought some plants using the sensory considerations listed above. As I only had a small box I was quite limited to the amount I could buy but wanted to incorporate contrasts to make the box as exciting as possible.
For the fragrance section I decided to use Lavender and Rosemary, both very strong smelling, which are also quite robust. I separated the two herbs at each end of the box so to give them some space.
Next, focusing on visuals, I decided to get some very brightly coloured flowers so that the high contrast could been seen by a child who has some useful vision. This area can be something you can really go to town on and you can be really creative with colours.
Moving onto touch, I decided that I would need to use something that would be able to survive a lot of handling and also easily differentiated textures. So I went with ferns and grass. When I closed my eyes they both felt very different and interesting to touch.
Once I had all the plants and equipment I needed I used a plastic bag and stabbed holes in it and lined the base of the herb planter. Then I added compost and the plants to each of the sections and watered the newly planted. It really was as simple as that. This was only done on a very small scale but there is lots of potentials with this project and you could design your flower beds around your child’s sensory needs!
The last thing I am going to add is Braille to all of the plant tags. Once Scarlett can read it she will be able to tell me the name of the plant/flower all by herself! Either using touch, smell or by reading the code.
If you would like any further information about Sensory Gardens I found the sensorytrust.org.uk website extremely useful when planning my own garden box and I would love to hear from more people who have designed their sensory gardens with their visually impaired child in mind.
You might also be interested in our blog about making a Spring Tree.