by Doug and Patti Rose
(Editor’s Note: Doug Rose is a member of the California Council of the Blind. He and his wife, Patti, own and operate Rosepond Aquatics, www.rosepond.com, and Easy Pond Vac, www.easypondvac.com. They are founders of the North Coast Water Garden Club, www.ncwgc.org, too.)
As an avid water gardener who is blind, I have been asked by sighted gardeners, “How do you garden?” and “What do you enjoy about water gardening since you have no vision?” It took some reflection on my part to discover why I enjoy water gardening other than I just knew it felt good.
I have been without sight most of my life. I grew up on a farm and enjoyed farming but it all changed to a new level once I started water gardening. My sighted wife and I have been water gardening as a hobby and as a business.
The sounds, sensations and odors involved with water gardening are unique compared to the rest of nature. I never get bored with listening to water features and all the various sounds you can make them create. It can be a simple trickle sound to a more intense rushing sound. Originally I disliked the softer trickle sounds. But as can happen with music, I have come to acquire an appreciation for the gentle trickle. To me a waterfall sounds like a jazz composition. Even though the flow rate is consistent the water will create variations in sound over time. I have spent countless hours experimenting with the sound by placing rocks or other objects in the flow to create new water melodies. Hopefully the sound changes I make are also visually pleasing. Other sounds I have noted are the kissing sounds fish make when they feed or the distinct sounds of dragonflies when they move. Every summer night is filled with the courting sounds of frogs. But it is not just the sounds that make water features so attractive.
There are many unique sensations to be felt. Water has a smooth, flat surface feeling and a therapeutic feel when flowing. Perhaps this is why fish swim into the flow of a waterfall. I am continuously fascinated by the feel of water lily leaves floating and their various sizes, shapes and sinus constructions. The stems are hollow and make for good drinking straws. When I touch a dying leaf and stem I sense a different feel from healthy counterparts, as they are soft. In murky water, my sighted wife often asks me to feel inside the pot of water lilies and see how many growing points have developed. I have also made braille labels for the water lilies. They aren’t affected by nature like print labels are so I can always tell her which plant is which. The braille dots on plastic are resilient; they never break down or become unreadable by a covering of algae.
Repotting a water lily is like uncovering a mystery. It is easy to divide water lilies by touch. The anchor roots and the feeder roots are easily distinguished and the growing points are easy to find. With a little experience I can find new plants and separate them from the old root stock with just my sense of touch.
Most marginal plants can be identified by touch or fragrance. Aquatic mint and acorus both have a distinct smell. Grasses are obvious and some have edges. Corkscrew rush curls and iris have strap leaves. Floating hearts might be a bit of a challenge because some water lilies have small leaves too, but their flowers definitely are different.
String algae are another venture into mystery land. In the spring it is mushy and doesn’t stick together. The summer version is where it gets its name. I don’t need sight to collect string algae, but pea soup algae are a different story. I only know about pea soup algae after a sighted person reports it. But without sight I can still enjoy a green pond whereas sighted folks want to change it.
The water lily flowers have so many different fragrances. From my above-ground pond I can pull a flower to my nose to savor the smells. My above-ground pond also makes it easy to access all the sensations of water gardening, and it is ergonomic for seniors.
Much of the work of pond maintenance and pond construction can be performed without vision. I use a talking tape measure, beeping level, talking weight scale, and talking thermometer to aid in construction and maintenance. As soon as a talking salt meter and talking water test kit come on the market, I will have them too.
My talking computer gives me access to the same tools as a sighted gardener. For example, I gather information about water gardening, calculate water volumes, receive weather reports, and perform as president of our local water garden club.
Water gardening is a very viable option for visually impaired gardeners. It can be done as a hobby or as a job. I welcome anyone interested in following up on this topic to contact me via e-mail, [email protected], or phone, (707) 839-0588.