Sightseeing. A periodic tour of CVI news, views and events.

Sensory Garden Brings Nature to CVI Clients

How a Volunteer's Love of Gardening Inspired her to Create a Sensory Garden for CVI Clients to Enjoy

by CVI Volunteer Kelly Spetalnick

As a suggestion from Abra Lee during my interview to apply for the Central Fulton Master Gardener program in 2018, I combined my career as an optometrist and my new-found community garden service to begin designing a garden for the visually impaired. After consulting with the administration at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), where I have volunteered in the past, they invited me to install a new garden in front of the building along West Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta and teach a gardening class to the after-school kids one afternoon a week. From a gentle suggestion, I found a new part-time volunteer job.

The kids range from five to twenty-one years old, and with the ‘shepherds’ that assist, each week brought over twenty students to the dirt world. We worked indoors and out, planted take home gardens, did show and tell with a variety of plants, cooked with herbs from their herb garden, etc., and we hope to eventually have a raised bed garden in the playground.

As of now, we have the inaugural sensory garden in place along West Peachtree Street that touches on a few considerations for the visually impaired and the blind. There are tactile plants such as ‘Frosted Curls’ carex — a soft grass that feels like hair; tiboucina grandiflora — rises large with stiff fuzzy leaves and purple flowers that rise on stalks; various ferns that are feathery or curled or stiff and ragged; cast iron plant — long with flat, waxy leaves that rise and fall like rabbit ears. Scented plants include Royal Standard hosta (summer), paper bush (winter) and Guacamole hosta and Honesty (spring). Sound comes from Northern sea oats’ seed heads dancing in the wind in the fall. Contrast is used to surround plants and divide areas with chocolate chip ajuga, creeping Jenny, vinca major, Solomon Seal and hellebores. There are large pots that elevate plants for clients that cannot bend to the ground and are filled with a variety of native perennials, colorful annuals and succulents. Over forty-six plants are labelled with their scientific name, common name, a QR code that can be scanned for additional plant information and Braille labels with the common name. We even added a doggie poo station for the guide dogs.

With no budget for this project, I had to rely on generous donations to bring this garden to life. The overall effort cost about $6,000 and benefitted from in kind donations of advice, labor, plants, pottery and money from Ameer Mackoul, owner of Green Season Landscaping; Bobby Saul and Dave Smith of Saul Nursery; AW Pottery; Central Fulton Master Gardeners; Comcast and their employees, and a number of local optometrists (Drs. Barr, Grosswald, Carter, Forsche and more). The support of the staff and clients at CVI ensured it was successful, and area Master Gardeners helped in the garden and classroom (thanks, Bob Ruprecht).

As any gardener will tell you, the design is never finished, and we hope to improve on our outreach to the visually impaired population in Atlanta to make sure that they recognize how they, and we, can enjoy nature using all of our senses.