Have you got green fingers?

Authored by Sarah Bell

With a multitude of sensory stimuli, gardens can be ideal therapeutic environments for people looking for meaningful nature encounters and positive social interactions. I recently met up with an exciting charity that uses gardening to bring positive changes to people’s lives, including those with different types of visual impairment.

Thrive helps to build skills and confidence amongst people who want to take part in gardening, be it on site, at home, on at allotment or in a community setting. They run
horticultural therapy programmes and gardening activities at their regional centres in Reading, London, Birmingham and Gateshead

They have worked with visually impaired gardeners for over 30 years and in 2010 they produced a range of online resources to support gardening amongst blind and partially sighted gardeners.

These resources include ideas about how to arrange and design a garden that moves beyond sight to stimulate multiple senses, as demonstrated by their ‘Out of Sight’ garden in Beech Hill.

Plants are carefully selected for their scent, tactile and companion properties, as well as the sounds evoked as they are rustled by the wind. For those who are partially sighted, they suggest including plants that produce white, blue or yellow flowers as these are typically the last colours to go with the onset and progression of visual impairment. Contrasting textures are used underfoot to indicate changes in direction in the path networks weaving through the garden, with all obstacles carefully indicated.

Thrive’s website features advice about how to get started as a new gardener, how to carry on gardening using tried-and-tested gardening equipment and tools, and a range of tips for growing food and using containers to provide flexible and manageable growing spaces. It also includes a gardening yearbook, as well as suggestions about how best to set up a local gardening club that supports individuals with varying forms and severity of sight loss.

We’d like to include people’s experiences of gardening with a visual impairment in the Sensing Nature project, so if you have stories you would like to share please do get in touch online or by emailing me at Sarah.Bell@exeter.ac.uk.

Some of Thrive’s online resources are in pdf form. For large-print photocopies, you can contact Thrive on 01189 885 688, or write to their headquarters at:

Thrive, The Geoffrey Udall Centre, Beech Hill, Reading, RG7 2AT

A list of additional organisations providing gardening resources for individuals with visual impairments is also available here, and via the RNIB (whose resources are available in Word format and were produced in collaboration with Thrive).