Technique Talk

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

By this time, you are probably wondering how a blind person does all of the gardening activities I engage in. I have great news—it is no big deal.

Let’s start with the Master Gardeners plant sale. At the pre-sale plant zoo on Friday night, finding my plants was really relatively easy. First, Beth was with me, I had my Braille list which I prepared beforehand, and I knew what I wanted. From attending the open house, I knew there were yellow cannas, and red cannas. Of course, all of the canna plants felt alike. Beth directed me to the yellow canna aisle, and my next task was to select two. I picked two stout specimens with upright and relatively large leaves. When I put them in the flat, Beth again verified that I had selected yellow ones. The same was true for tomatoes. They all feel and smell alike. Beth directed me to the Bush Early Girl, and I picked some out. Again, I picked stout plants, rather squatty–no tall, spindly ones, no wilted ones, please.

The annuals were listed from A to Z. We began on the A end, and I soon found two C plants I wanted—celosia and calendula. These I found by touch. The calendulas also have a distinct fragrance in their leaves that I love. I was elated. When others saw me finding what I wanted independently, they asked me for their help. “Have you seen any snapdragon? Have you ever grown castor beans? Would you grow globe amaranth in a pot?” No, I wouldn’t grow amaranth in a pot, yes I have raised castor beans (and loved them), and from hearing the list beforehand, I knew that snapdragons were listed by their common name a few aisles down.

If Beth and I were stumped, there were lots of folks around to ask—all crazy, all Master Gardeners, and all rousting after our favorite plants. In that case, she and I just asked. There are items that sighted folks cannot find as well, so this is not a difficult thing to do

I was a greeter at the plant sale on Saturday morning. The path outside the west door was gravel, so I could hear folks coming toward the greenhouse. “Hello. Welcome to our plant sale. Need a box, or two, or three?” – a very easy task for a blind guy. Of course, I didn’t know who was approaching, so sometimes I’d ask another volunteer who was just rotating around, performing their assigned task. But again, these were fellow Master Gardeners, so it gave us a chance to converse. Other customers had questions which I most of the time could answer. We worked in tandem, so if I didn’t know, my partner might.

As I mentioned earlier, Beth and I sorted out the plants we purchased on Friday night. Upon our return home, we sorted out the additional plants we purchased Saturday morning. Then it was time to get to work. I planted the bar bed, of course, which is quite a small raised bed. I knew my annuals from touch, so I tried to plant the tallest in the back, with the shortest in front. Everything I’d purchased was old hat to me, and if I had a question, Beth could read their height as listed on the plant tag. I didn’t use the Braille yard stick, as the bed had four walls for me to judge with, and I just spaced them accordingly with the trowel. The shorter ones are a little closer together.

Planting the vegetable seeds in the raised bed on the south side of the house was just an experiment. I don’t care if they look good, are in rows, or in any kind of order. I had too many seeds for the bed and when I plant the eggplant in the middle of that bed, I’m sure I’ll disrupt a few seeds. Some people broadcast seeds, others plant in blocks. I plant in rows; there is no right or wrong way for this task.

Sunday’s duties were easy as well. As I mentioned earlier, I butchered the two oleanders. Beth saw my handiwork later and really wondered if I killed hers. I can assure her that it’ll bush out and be fine, as I saved a couple of short branches. It was simply an issue of finding the bottom of the stems, using strong clippers to cut them, and throwing them into a compost bag. The citrus trees are thorny so I prune them carefully. I was looking for dead twigs; I found them, but my hands found plenty of thorns as well.

I felt along the north side of the garden to the west end and along the fence for places to put some of my potted plants. The cannas were potted up, and placed near the west end, east of the Mother’s Day peony, and east of a day lily clump. The calla lilies were potted up as well, and placed on the north side further east, near the Dwarf Blue Spruce. I figured they could take a little more shade.

Last night, May 6, it was time to plant peppers. They were thoroughly soaked, as they’d been in the water bath. They were also root bound, but looked healthy. Since the plants were in small “cells,” I pushed aside some soil in the middle of each pot, plopped them in, covered them up enough to make sure they were at the level of their previous planting, and put them along the northwest corner of the garden, at the east end, just inside the fence. This is a rather sunny area, and peppers have done well there in the past. Before I carried the pepper pots, I made sure as to where I wanted them. My hands were full, and I didn’t want to set the pots down on where I had previously planted garden.

It is a warm day outdoors, and it looks like this will be a good night to plant the eggplant and tomatoes. If it rains tomorrow, my timing will be perfect. If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, it looks like I’d better get the hoses out.

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