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Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Gardening After Vision Loss: Tips from an Experienced Blind Gardener

You may wonder if you can garden after losing your vision. You can, and here are a few ideas to make it more enjoyable. Container gardening is a particularly easy, fun way. Flowers, herbs, and many vegetables grow well in containers. Whatever your growing conditions, you can have wonderful plants in your life. Even shallow 6-inch-deep pots can sit on a porch rail full of basil, parsley, or chives—fresh herbs for cooking or salad. No trip to the store needed!

Advantages of Containers

  1. They make identifying plants and seed locations easy.
  2. They let you garden anywhere without digging garden beds.
  3. They allow you to have the best soil, moisture, and growing conditions for a particular plant.
  4. They make changing a plant's location easier.

Sample List of Plants That Grow Well in Containers

The list is divided into plants that need big containers and ones that can grow in shallow, small containers. Anything you plant in a small container could be planted in a big container along with other larger plants. Note: All of these containers are "outside," on a porch, balcony, or outside a window.

Big Containers:

  • tomatoes
  • bush beans
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • red, green, or yellow sweet peppers
  • hot peppers
  • greens such as chard, kale, and collards
  • celery
  • carrots
  • beets
  • potatoes

Small Containers:

  • herbs such as parsley, chives, basil, oregano, mint
  • leaf lettuces of all kinds (hundreds of choices)
  • spinach
  • radishes

There are many more possibilities. Some grow best from seed and some from little "sets" or starter plants, available in gardening stores.

Soil

Soil is the foundation of a garden. Good soil lets plants thrive. Try using top soil or potting soil from a garden center to fill containers. You know the quality will be good and it will be free of weeds and weed seeds. You'll have to do less weeding that way later in the season!

  • Use containers with good drainage holes in the bottom. Holes must be small enough so soil stays in the pot, but large enough to let excess water drain out. If water pools in the bottom of a container it will damage plant roots. Put a layer of small pebbles or wood chips in the very bottom of the container about a half inch deep. It will absorb water, helping drainage.
  • Next, fill the container to within about an inch of the top. That inch is so water or rain falling on the container has somewhere to go. If the container is full of soil to the rim, water might wash off the top layer of soil or wash off seeds. Try a mixture of two-thirds good soil and one-third peat moss. Peat moss adds lightness to the soil and nutrients, and helps soil retain moisture. It comes in big bags at most gardening centers.
  • Next plant seeds, checking instructions for spacing them. Planting seeds and little plants in the same container is nice. You can enjoy the little plant while the seeds are germinating and sprouting. Planting lettuce or spinach "sets" and seeds in the same container means your lettuce crop comes in over time.
  • You might put a parsley or basil plant in the center of a five-gallon bucket and space four bush bean seeds around the rim. The buckets has a nice green plant in it while the seeds sprout.

Finding Containers

Before spending money on expensive containers, think about recycling. An old plastic trash can with holes punched in the bottom becomes a gardening container. So does that plastic quart container from take-out food, yogurt, or cottage cheese. Restaurants, stores, and delis sometimes have five-gallon buckets from purchasing coleslaw or pickles they may give you. Spackle buckets work well too, once thoroughly cleaned.

Thoughts About Labeling

The approach you take to labeling will vary according to the amount of vision you have and your own personal style. Here are a few things to consider:

  • If you keep notes about your garden you can include location along with information about what you planted and when. Use whatever notetaking system works for you. AFB's Product Search can help you find personal digital assistants with speech output.
  • Marker plants can help you identify the contents of each container. Plants with a distinctive shape (like broccoli), scent (like basil), or supporting trellis (like tomatoes) can make good marker plants.
  • Use labels in large print or braille to mark containers. The labels can be placed on the containers themselves or on markers made of wood or metal which can be bought from garden stores or made from popsicle sticks. Waterproof tape and markers can be used to create your own large print labels.

Gardeners always ask each other questions. We form gardening clubs. There are entire societies dedicated to one plant such as roses or day lilies. VisionAware is dedicated to our particular interests and needs as gardeners who are blind or visually impaired. Please post your questions and comments on the message boards; let us know who you are and what you want to discuss.

If you have gardened before, welcome back to your garden. If you are just taking up gardening, welcome to a new hobby.

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