Podcast

Gardening Blind

Triangle Gardener podcast logoMary is an experienced gardener and completely blind.  In this episode we’ll visit Mary’s garden and learn about gardening with our entire body and also discover Mary’s super powers.  We’ll hear from a university researcher and a plant buyer to determine if our gardens are losing their fragrance and join the national #PlantSomethingFragrant campaign.

Garden Destinations logo

Thanks to our sponsor Garden Destinations Magazine for making this episode possible 

Resources

Mary is a member of the OLLI at NC State program. To find out more about OLLI and their classes visit their website or follow them on Twitter @LLIRaleigh

Resources for blind and visually impaired people can be found at:


As a service to our followers, we offer a complete transcript of this show

JENKINS

Welcome to the Triangle Gardener magazine show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Today we meet a gardener with unique gardening abilities and tour her creation.

FLANAGAN

That’s one of the things I should have said earlier that I have an advantage to my gardening.  Often times he’ll find me out here after dark doing my gardening in the summer because its cooler.

JENKINS

Thanks to Garden Destinations who sponsored this story.  Garden Destinations is a new digital magazine for travelers who want to include the world’s finest public gardens and garden destinations in their travel plans.  You can find them at their website, GardenDestinations.com

JENKINS

I met Mary because of her dog. He’s a friendly dog with a job to do. When I discovered she was a gardener and the usual topics came up —plants, the weather, our soil. When Mary invited me to come see her garden I jumped at the chance because I hadn’t visited a garden like hers before. I started our conversation by asking if she had been a gardener her whole life.

FLANAGAN

Pretty much, from a young age.  Even when after I went off on my own, as a young adult I used to have a big, huge vegetable garden.  I loved to preserve all my vegetables and do canning and everything.  I don’t do that anymore.  Now its just predominately the flowers that I enjoy.

JENKINS

We are talking on her porch and I can see out to her colorful perennial beds. There’s a slight breeze and we are enveloped by this heavenly scent drifting in from her garden. Decades ago Mary lost her sight but that didn’t force her to give up her love of gardening. I asked her how her gardening had changed.

FLANAGAN

As a sighted person I used to enjoy a lot more time and investment in the effort of a vegetable garden.  Like I said that has completely evolved now that I’m putting more time into flowers and less time into vegetables.  But the biggest change I would say is, coming down here it has been an impact.  Most of my gardening years I was living in New England –in Vermont.  And gardening up there is very, very different from gardening down here.  In terms of the seasons, the growing region, what you can grow, and the soil that you’re working with. As my skills developed I got better at producing better-looking gardens.  So when we moved into this house it was really the first time I had a chance to put those skills to the test.  We had just moved down here from up north.  So not only testing my skills as a blind person, but also learning to garden in a completely different region.

JENKINS

You made the comment about making a “good looking garden”. What is a “good looking garden” for you?

FLANAGAN

Well, it changes from season to season.  For me, I visualize what I have done in my yard, in a particular garden in my yard. So when I’m out in my garden one of the things I love to do is to feel the flowers or feel the leaves, feel the whole plant.  I just check out everything.  I feel the ground around the plant and how the plant and the leaves feel, how the flowers feel, how they relate to one another.  And I get a picture in my mind of how this might look visually.  So I visualize my gardens.  Because I was a sighted person at one time I’m able to imagine and paint a picture in my mind.  So that’s how I enjoy my gardens.  Not only though touch but also through smell, my sense of smell.  And that’s why you’ll find a lot of my flowers and flowering shrubs are such that they do have fragrance.

JENKINS

Mary told me about a recent outing she and her sister had made to a commercial garden and what she discovered about the plants the owner had selected.

FLANAGAN

My sister was describing all of these beautiful flowers and how they were laid out and how he did such a beautiful job of designing the gardens with interspersing the greenery —the shrubs and everything and the vibrant colors of the flowers.  But the one thing I found was that there was no fragrance.  I kept smelling, I kept burying my nose in the flowers and there was no fragrance.  I said to my sister at one point when we sat down to take a little rest, I love to just sit and smell the flowers in a garden.  And there was nothing.  I was so disappointed.  I said to my sister, “I get no sense whatsoever that we’re sitting in a beautiful garden here.  Because there’s no sense of the earth, no smell of the earth, or the loam, or the mulch, or anything, or the flowers.”  I’ve noticed that more and more when I go to a nursery to try to pick out the flowers there’s less and less fragrance with the hybrid flowers that they are now developing.  They forfeit the fragrance.

JENKINS

Mary’s comment about scent got me wondering.  Are we really breeding fragrance out of our flowers?  So I called Dr. John Dole in the Horticulture Department at NC State University.  Dr. Dole specializes in floriculture and works closely with the commercial growers in our state. I asked him if flowers are losing their scent.

DOLE

Yes and no.  It really goes species by species.  We hear it most in roses —both in cut flowers and ones for the garden. Garden roses have a fantastic range of colors and then you start adding in the shrub roses and now we have all these different kinds of roses and they’re all being grown for a variety of reasons one of which is fragrance.  We have so much interest in diseases resistance —we want roses that have Black Spot resistances, mildew resistance.  We want roses that the Japanese Beetles won’t eat up. There’s not too many White Files, not too many Aphids, don’t have problems with root rot —which we don’t really see much anymore because breeders have been selecting roses that are resistant to a lot of these things.  So we have all these factors that go into making a plant attractive and interesting for a gardener to use, only one of which is fragrance. So it’s mostly in the case of roses.  It’s not a matter that fragrance has been bred out of roses.  It’s that in the process of breeding all these other characteristics fragrance doesn’t always rise to the top.

JENKINS

Dr. Dole explained the loss of fragrance isn’t an active process, it more an accidental by-product of the marketplace. If my purchases impact what is available at the garden centers, then I wanted to talk with someone who buys thousands of plants each year.

O’NEILL

My name is Sharon O’Neill and I am the nursery buyer here at Logan Trading Company. That means I am responsible for bringing in all the perennials, trees, and shrubs that we carry here at the garden center.

JENKINS

What are your customers looking for when they come here to Logans?

O’NEILL

It varies.  We have a really broad spectrum of folks who come here with varying degrees of gardening experience.  I would say first and foremost people come in looking for color.  They want flowers, they want color, they want things that are going to do well here in our area.  In some of our more challenging settings. So we really do try to carry plants that give them what they are looking for.

JENKINS

What are the top 3 things people look for when they are buying flowers?

O’NEILL

Color and especially not only color but bloom time. The longer the bloom the better.  Size. Deer resistant and rabbit resistant.  Just hardy, low maintenance. So we do ask a lot of our plants.

JENKINS

I hear gardeners complain that plants have lost their scent.  Is that true?

O’NEILL

I think there is a little bit of that.  One example that comes to mind is sweet shrub.  Which is a native, beautiful, colorful, and fragrant shrub in our area.  There are some new hybrids where the flowers are larger and showier but they have sacrificed the fragrance.

JENKINS

If our gardens are losing their scent we have only ourselves to blame. When I went to visit Mary in her garden I was prepared to feel sorry for her.  But I got that wrong. Gardening taps into all of our senses and Mary showed me that I was only gardening with my eyes. But as we toured through her garden I noticed something.  There aren’t any weeds. None.  Mary’s husband joined us out in the garden for a moment and revealed one of Mary’s super powers.

Mary FLANAGAN

I’m pretty persistent against the weeds.

Glenn FLANAGAN

What impresses me is that she can do it at 11:00 at night when it’s dark.

Mary FLANAGAN

That’s one of the things I should have said earlier that I have an advantage to my gardening.  Often times he’ll find me out here after dark doing my gardening in the summer because its cooler.

JENKINS

Darn it, you get extra gardening hours! Mary, I still have the recorder on so we have you on record bragging you get extra time.

FLANAGAN

(Laughs) Exactly.

JENKINS

Mary’s garden and her ability to enjoy it at night when its cooler has left me a little, well, envious of Mary and her abilities. Mary moves slowly, but deliberately, around her garden beds.  Walking with her I started to notice how the terrain changes under foot and a chorus of birds sang to us as we moved along. I noticed the textures of her plants as we brushed against them. I was gardening with my whole body —not just my eyes.

But the scent — it was divine. Mary had created a scent scape, mixing bold big scents and delicate fragrances that made me stop, wanting to find the source. I realized that I had just painted a pretty picture in my garden.  Now it feels flat and two dimensional.  Mary has taught me to consider all a plant has to offer.  Plants, just like people, are more than just the way they look.

Here at Triangle Gardener we’ve decided to go looking for fragrant plants.  So we’ve decided to join the national PlantSomething campaign and we’re asking you to tell us what your favorite fragrant plants are by using the hashtag #PlantSomethingFragrant in your social media postings. Let’s see if we can shake some scent back into the garden centers. So tag your favorite fragrant plants on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and anywhere else in your digital world with #PlantSomethingFragrant.

You can find our show on iTunes.  If you like what we’re doing give us a review.  I’m Lise Jenkins. This is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Thanks for listening.