Blind World Magazine

Being led down the garden path.

June 21, 2005.
Herald & Review, Illinois.

DECATUR - Not all the picnickers at The Garden Path on Monday could see the red and white petunias, the purple salvias, the lavender verbenas or the pink dianthus.

But elsewhere in the shop's new enabling garden, they could explore with their fingers the different textures of holly, impatiens, coral bells, pachysandras, Blue Spruce sedum, Dream roses and Endless Summer hydrangeas. They could listen for the soft gurgle of the fountain or the random tones of the wind chimes.

Or they could inhale the pungent scents of lamb's ear, mint, thyme, sage or rosemary or German chamomile.

"A lot of plants don't smell very strong," said Jim Hoffert of Decatur. "It's nice to be able to touch the plants, get some of them on your fingers and get something out of it that way."

Hoffert, an independent living specialist with the Illinois Department of Human Services, and his guide dog Donald, were among about 30 guests Monday at a picnic for members of the Seeing Our Way low-vision support group for Macon County residents sponsored by Soyland Access to Independent Living.

Marla Winkleblack, coordinator of SAIL's visual services program, said she wanted to share the enabling garden with the support group after suggesting scented, tactile and sound areas when Rich Starshak, owner of The Garden Path, was designing it last year. "We'll work on Braille signs sometime," she said.

Starshak said he sought input from several groups representing people with disabilities after his daughter Laura proposed building the garden about two years ago.

The 50-by-30-foot garden features a smooth concrete surface, narrow flower beds elevated as high as 20 inches for easier access, container gardening encompassing flowers and vegetables, and partial shade from plum trees and a weeping willow.

Starshak said he thought about how much his late parents - Frank and Ruth Starshak - would have enjoyed the garden while he was building it. His father used a walker before his death in 2001, and his mother used a wheelchair before she died in September.

Jesse Jolly of Decatur, who has peripheral vision, said he was enjoying the view Monday as he sat in the garden.

"It's laid out beautifully," Jolly said. "I had no idea such a thing was back here."

Theresa Churchill can be reached at tchurchill@; or 421-7978.

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