By Danielle Kutchel
Members of the blind and low-vision community enjoyed a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne last month, proving that the gardens are a feast not just for the eyes, but for all the senses.
The walk on Wednesday 28 April was organised by Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria, and included a bus tour of the extensive Cranbourne gardens as well as a tactile walk through the landscape, guided by volunteers and a staff member from the gardens who explained the various types of trees and flowers.
Visitors were able to ‘feel their way’ around the gardens by touching and smelling the different plants.
Carol Unger, a Dandenong resident who has been legally blind for 40 years, said being able to touch and feel the plants made a difference for participants.
“I was always a bit afraid to do that – especially in a botanic park, you’re a bit afraid to touch and feel because you think you’re not allowed to,” she explained.
“We were allowed to crush the leaves and smell.
“To smell individual trees and know what they’re called is just great.
“That made my day.”
She said another benefit of the day was providing others with a chance to learn about how people with vision loss experience the community.
“I think it’s important to see people in the community using white canes and having guide dogs. It’s good learning for the community,” she said.
“Educating the community about blind people is a good way to go – that we can do things that everybody else can do, just a bit differently.”
Although this was her first in-person activity with Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria, Ms Unger said she has already booked into another walk later this month at Wilson Botanic Park in Berwick.
“I always feel calm and peaceful in amongst greenery,” she said.
Volunteer Liz Denham said she decided to join in on the walk as it was a good combination of her passions for walking, native plants and helping people who are vision impaired.
She’s been a volunteer with Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria for around five years, and has been on many adventures with them over that time, but said that “Cranbourne was a highlight”.
“It was all very well arranged. I’ve been wanting to see the Cranbourne gardens for a long time.
“Our guide was excellent [and] extremely knowledgeable.”
Another highlight was being able to catch up with her friends on the walk, and she also enjoyed learning about native plants from different parts of Australia.
“I’m looking forward to the next one, and I hope we can go back to Cranbourne in a different season because I suspect it’s quite different in different seasons,” Ms Denham said.
To find out more about group walks and activities with Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria, visit https://www.blindsports.org.au/