Braille Monitor                                                                                 February 2006


Blind Seniors Garden Too

by Pat Munson

From the Editor: The National Organization of the Senior Blind (NOSB) has been gathering material for a small book aimed especially at seniors losing sight. One of the people who have been most assiduous in working on this project is Pat Munson, a longtime leader of the NFB of California and of NOSB, where she edits the excellent newsletter. Several years ago Pat retired from her career as a public school teacher, and she and her husband Jack have more time for their travel and other activities. In the following article Pat describes her life as a gardener. This is what she says:

Pat Munson at work in her garden

I was born blind, but not a gardener. My first recollection of plants was the ones in my familyís backyard about a mile from the Pacific Ocean, so it was full of sand. Cactus stood in one corner, and a few shrubs grew here and there. I do not remember my parents tending the plants, so I never gave them a thought. I learned quickly to keep fingers away from the cactus, but the shrubs were fun to climb and search for snails, which I kept in a jar.

My next experience with a garden was years later when I was a teen. My family had moved, and my step-mother was a wonderful gardener. She showed me how to water her many flowers and how to clip off dead ones. The hardest was clipping off the roses. Like other family members I had scratches from the ungrateful rose thorns. As I say, I did these jobs but showed no further interest.
After I started teaching and had an apartment of my own, I decided that a few house plants would enhance my decor. I guess I cared for them well enough. I learned by trial and error to get the correct amount of water on the soil and not spill any on the carpet.

After I married, my husband and I moved to an apartment with a western exposure. After some discussion (the apartment was up fifty-two steps) Jack agreed that the plants could come along. With all that afternoon sun I soon had a jungle. They were fun, but I soon had to learn pruning skills.

In the fall of 1973 we bought a house. I carefully moved all those huge plants to our new home. However, I quickly learned that with a house came an outdoor garden that required endless work. Previous owners had bequeathed us tons of plants, shrubs, and mature trees around the yard. Caring for all those indoor plants was no longer much fun, so I gave them to friends.

Getting down at ground level, I quickly realized that I had no idea which growing things were nice plants and which were weeds. My step-mother volunteered to come over and put a small stick by each plant I decided to keep. It did not take me long to decide that I did not want to tend lots of plants. Again my step-mother taught me to dig up unwanted plants carefully. Our neighbors were always looking for extra plants for their gardens. I had so many that I could not get to the larger ones by the fence.

My step-mother also had to teach me about the assortment of garden tools, brooms, etc. I would need. She also pointed out that I should have more than one of each tool because they are easy to misplace behind plants. One does not want to waste half the gardening time looking for a lost tool. Sooner or later it will turn up.

Some years into my adventure with gardening, I met a wonderful Federationist, Muzzy Marcelino. Not only did he grow beautiful roses, but he was also a judge for his local rose club. He told me that he would help me choose, prepare, and plant some choice roses in my garden.

After giving me a detailed list of soil material, bushes, and rose trees to purchase, Muzzy showed up one day for the planting. The two of us worked for hours mixing the proper soil, digging the holes, planting, and finally watering them in. Of course he returned many times to instruct me about pruning, etc. He warned me to wear a jacket made of strong material because the thorns grab at everything they can reach. Being blind himself, he taught me techniques for grabbing the branches without losing fingers because we could not work wearing gloves.

At one point I decided I wanted some juniper trees in the front yard. As these trees grew I thought they would look pretty if they were pompommed. I had seen this done to bushes and trees in my neighborhood. Oh yes, I got a lot of ideas about gardening by touching plants, shrubs, and small trees in parks and yards. Homeowners for miles around know me from my knocking on their doors and asking to look at their gardens. One thing I learned from other gardens was that I should not plant shrubs and other plant material too close together because they grow and fill out. At one point part of my garden looked like an elevator full of Federationists at an NFB convention. But all gardeners learn what to do and not to do as time passes.

Somewhere along the way I got very tired of lawns. So we thought it would be a good idea to hire a landscape gardener to give suggestions and ultimately do the work of removing the grass and bringing in the rock. Ultimately the transformation took place, but as time passed, I decided that I did not like particular plants and rocks, so I have moved or removed them from the garden.

After three decades as an outdoor gardener I have chosen to keep most shrubs low enough that I can prune them myself. The large trees are trimmed by a professional under my direction. Since my retirement I have hired a gardener to come once a month to do the major work. My husband and I are gone from home a lot, so we need help keeping the yard neat and tidy.

Yes, blind people can garden. When beginning, examine other gardens and decide what you like. Do not be afraid of making mistakes. I have made plenty. Once I thought I could limit the growth of a tree by trimming its roots! Wrong, the poor thing died. Sure, I have scraped, cut, and injured fingers and hands, but show me a gardener who hasnít. I was once late to an NFB chapter meeting because I had to stop at the doctorís office to have my finger stitched from a close encounter with the cutting shears. But Iíve survived, and my garden has likewise. I use my white cane as a marker. You can also switch on a portable radio while you go to the garbage to dump weeds. Then it is easy to return to your work area. If you have questions about how a blind person gardens, call one of us. In the National Federation of the Blind someone always has an answer about how to accomplish the task at hand.