Here’s something else which never occurred to me. If I ever thought about it at all, In my inimitably blinkered way, I only ever imagined blind people (even those whom I know
personally) enjoying gardens made by someone else – as if they tap-tapped their way carefully along safely engineered paths, occasionally brushing plants with their white sticks to
stimulate releases of scent and thereby enjoy the pleasure of identifying at least one of the shrubs or flowers growing around them.
I’m sorry about that: I only hope I know better now. Apart from anything else, of course, you don’t actually need a garden to be a gardener: an accumulation of window-boxes,
plant-pots, half-barrels. In particular, there must be many of us who dedicate an almost enclosed area of our own garden to growing the herbs we hope to cook with.
And by their very nature, those herbs are best identified through their scents and their tastes (which makes me realize once more how close to each other those two senses are).
I’m afraid, even then, I conceived of this garden, whatever it consisted of, as being made for the poor of sight by someone able to see fully. What an arrogant assumption. I had
forgotten just how much the sense of touch matters in gardening, along with all the others: because I didn’t notice I was using it, I assumed that no-one else used it either.
But how often do we, without thinking touch a plant to confirm our identification of it. We might be feeling for the texture of a leaf; we might be feeling for the strength of its fibres,
or we might be rubbing leaves between thumb and forefinger before sniffing to check the exact scent or fragrance.
I have unwittingly drawn attention this before, when I explained the Bible’s name for Lavender: Spikenard. You can’t tell me that the spike part of that name occurred
only from the way the plant looked. A Lavender floret feels spikey as
Try walking round a garden – yours or anyone else’s – with your eyes tight shut (or blindfolded, to stop you cheating. You will soon find there is much more to a plant
than its colour. Given a careful choice of scents, a poorly sighted person can navigate gardens from place to place just as clearly and simply as I look for the colours of blooms. And that
person almost certainly has the advantage over me when it comes to recognise the shapes of what is growing – the sizes, the outline shapes, the textures of (say) leaves are things which,
until now, have by-passed my attention. Worse still, at most there will only be one or two trees which I can identify by their sounds, the ways in which their trunks and boughs creak in strong winds, or how a breeze sighs in their leaves. But could I reliably distinguish between two trees as different in their sounds as a willow and an aspen? Probably not, not even enough to know which is
going to blow-down on me in a gale. I have got a lot to learn.
If my suggestions are worth anything after all this, may I suggest beginning with a herb garden in a container perhaps made from the two halves of a wooden barrel. I think I should aim for one
half being filled with Lavenders, perhaps of subtly different varieties, to provide a ‘background’ touch and fragrance to everything else – perhaps, too, because
Lavender plants are a relatively straightforward plant to propagate.
In the other half, I should try mint, parsley, sage, thyme, basil, dill – but those are purely the ones which I know I use. You or your ‘unseeing’ friend will have
personal preferences: follow them.
Once you get to something larger, go for Lemongrass: I am intrigued by the idea of not needing lemons to add a lemon flavour.
So just for now, stop allowing your eyesight to dominate your other four senses: at least, use them all equally.
Written by David Hughes.