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“Some great gardens unfold like a narrative or a piece of music as we move through them and view their carefully choreographed wonders.” “To really know why San Francisco is not Paris you must sense it.” These words, quoted by Moore, Mitchell and Turnbull and Malnar and Vodvarka respectively (in Sensory Design), are what inspired me to create not only a garden for the blind, but a sense of place and feeling for those lacking sight. While reading the selected excerpts from both Sensory Design and The Rise of the Creative Class I realized that there is more to designing a garden for the blind than simply selecting plants with specific textures and scents; it is creating an entire place, a gestalt of the senses if you will, that creates a whole sense of being in the garden. Florida refers to creativity as “the process of destroying ones gestalt in favor of a better one.” My ideal garden for the blind creates a gestalt without a visual field. Using the kinesthetic sense of the distinctive land behind Hume, along with carefully selected auditory, olfactory, and tactile experiences, the garden for the blind will create a gestalt of its own, where even a seeing person feels they no longer need their sight.
I want to appeal to the senses, but not overwhelm them. This is why I decided to divide the garden almost into sections. The only predominate sense not divided at all will be sound. Ideally, in the center of the garden will be beautiful statue, with many curves and crevices, that also has running water (a bird bath would be perfect). While this might not work on the slopping land behind Hume, hopefully at least a small structure will be feasible and provide something else for the hands to explore as well as the constant, pleasing sound of running water. When walking through the butterfly rainforest with my eyes closed, my favorite part was when I was near water. The sound of water truly made me feel like I was in a nature scene; it also gave me a sense of direction and was remarkably soothing in a somewhat stressful situation (I do not normally walk through unfamiliar areas with my eyes closed). The sound of water is a must for my garden.
Also providing sound, I want to attract birds. I read that Bee Balm is an excellent attractor of hummingbirds and butterflies (which I learned from the butterfly rainforest can create quite a sensation when they land on you).
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As for the specific plants, their purpose will mainly be to provide tactile and olfactory pleasure. I will start with the softer plants, to be gentle to the exploring hand, and have a couple different plants to give the hand something new to explore, but still make them progress through the textures slowly. At the beginning on the right (I am picturing a winding path through the center, optimal for the slopped terrain) I will have some alyssums which are soft and described to have a sweet, fresh and relaxing smell. On the left I will have some lamb’s ear, an incredibly soft plant as well, but not as fragrant (I don’t want the fragrances to mix). Another way to arrange this would be to have both plants on both the left and right.
I will then progress into the harder textures. I would probably start with something like the philodendron, with the split leaves serving almost as a warning of the change to come. Then I will include some podocarpus shrub and weeping ilex. You could split these up on the left and right, but I think I will mix them to create a true tactile adventure. As the staple of this section, I want to include a citrus tree. It’s main purpose will be the overwhelming citrus smell, but the bark will add to this section of the garden as well.
After these rough textures, for the end of the garden trail I will have to end with another soft plant. I think I will end with a licorice plant; a soft texture with a sharp and defined scent that is not only poignant, but also brings positive associations for many people. One deep breath near the licorice plant can fill body with a complete sense of place at the end of the garden. It will not only be a sense of the licorice plant, but a sense of the feelings that come with its odor and warm texture, a truly pleasurable feeling to end on.
In Sensory Design Malnar and Vodvarka talk a lot about a kinesthetic and an overall feel. I think the overall feel of my garden will be the sense of a journey. With the slopping land behind Hume and the winding path, a visitor to my garden will have to walk slowly through the garden and really pay attention to where they are throughout the entire journey. The changing phases of texture and progressively stronger scents will allow for stronger and stronger feelings to build up in the visitor, and keep him wondering what comes next and anxious to explore every object. Complete with the sound, the visitor will not feel like they are in just any garden, but in a garden made with the kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory and auditory senses in mind. Like in the restaurant in Paris, no one will need their sense of sight to appreciate the garden. The clashing colors of the flowers would not matter and the reflecting sun off the water will not interrupt the experience. Any visitor to the garden will be able to feel through their experience that it is a garden for the blind.