One of the reasons I love public horticulture is the opportunity for new experiences. This past Saturday afforded me just that. We had a booking for a private tour for a group with visual impairments. I did my best to prepare for this unusual engagement, but in the end I was left surprised and pleased while wholly out of my depth. They taught me that bright colors are best. To say "look at your 12 o'clock" instead of "look ahead" .
I learned the true meaning of a Narrative Tour, as I watched one companion describe all the minor details that I, a sighted person, take for granted . . . the type of stone under our feet, the texture and color; the enclosure of green plants surrounding us down a concrete path; and the way the sun shone through the trees. Six steps down, four steps up. I learned that I really need to prune the spiny holly leaves off of the railing they were using to guide themselves (sorry!). Putting those things to voice was difficult; a new language unused, or perhaps an old one unpracticed.
Susan Stair, our featured artist, created art meant to be touched, and I invited our tour group to do just so in the Wisner House Gallery,
where we have on display many of her tree bark impressions. Above is an Arboretum volunteer from P.R.I.D.E. out of ECLC.
We also felt the springy texture of the Giant Sequoia bark --an aside: one of the things I'd never thought I'd have to say during a tour with ESL students was "Please don't punch the tree". First time for everything!-- the featheriness of the perennial Blue Star, the softness of Lamb's Ear. We smelled the many aromas of the herb garden, listened to the wind rustle through the canopy of trees overhead and through the grasses at our knees.
One of the more personal joys was learning that hot colors read more easily than do cools like blues and purples, so score one for me in my endeavor to make the arboretum not "green" so much as orange!
The day before this tour, a frequent visitor and friend told me, unprompted, of a childhood experience of visiting a garden where the signs were in Braille. She'd enjoyed the texture against her fingertips without understanding their meaning, and expressed an interest in seeing that instituted here. This led me to share with her our new project in which we will be making the entirety of what we call the "Core" gardens accessible to all, including a new Sensory Garden. Right now, the Greenhouse, Education Center, Welcome Walk, Perennial Border, Historic Exhibit, and Wisner House Gallery are the only areas truly compliant with ADA code.
Historic sites do not lend themselves toward being terribly accessible to the many needs of its visitors, especially one situated on the remnants of glacial kettles and moraines with barely a stitch of flat land to be had. The Historic Gardens reside down a sweeping greensward that is one of Calvert Vaux's (co-designer of Central Park) legacies, but it is more suited to a playful tumble down the hill than a family with a tandem pram trying to reach the Sugar Maple from the Herb Garden, or visitors with mobility or visual impairments. The Accessibility Project will allow Reeves-Reed Arboretum to be more fully experienced by not just our current friends, but will open the grounds to new friends in a more welcoming fashion.
We all experience our environments in different ways and come to the Arboretum for a variety of reasons: to be immersed in a natural and green environment, to breathe the freshness of the air, to listen to the wind, birds, or musical events, to please our eyes, to stimulate our imagination, to capture what we see with paint or film, to feel the grass between our toes, feel the warmth of dappled sunlight under the cool of a trees shadow, taste the harvest of the Vegetable Garden.
Whatever senses you use, however you experience the Arboretum, well come, my friends.