Our Blog: Plants and other Stories

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Engage all your senses in this world first for plant lovers

OCTOBER 7, 2022 | Written & photographs by BOTSOC NATIONAL

 

Above: A new Braille Trail has been launched at the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden in Worcester, making this special garden accessible to the visually-impaired community.

 

Plants, people and poems converge in the Karoo Desert

South Africa is home to some of the most beautiful, striking and colourful plants in the world. But how do people who are visually impaired experience our incredible indigenous plant life?

There are not many opportunities in South Africa, or even the world, where visually-impaired people can connect with plants easily. The launch of the new Braille Trail in the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden in Worcester – created with funding support from the Botanical Society of South Africa/South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Partnership Fund and other partners – aims to take the first steps to rectify this.

But this trail has gone even one step further: visitors can also enjoy poetry about the beautiful Breede Valley and Hex River region, through the clever use of technology.

 

Above: During the recent launch of the Braille Trail, visitors got to experience all those elements that make this trail the first of its kind, not only in South Africa, but globally.

 

Engage your senses

According to BotSoc’s Chair Kyra Lunderstedt, the new Braille Trail embodies the BotSoc spirit: To encourage all people of South Africa to know, grow, protect and enjoy our indigenous plants. “This trail is so unique in combining poetry about this area with plants, and to inspire us to learn about plants in different ways. It’s all about engaging all of our senses.”

The Braille Trail has been developed in such a way as to encourage people to enjoy and explore the plants and the poetry on their own, without assistance, given that independence is so important to human dignity.

There are a number of things that developers need to bear in mind when creating trails for the visually impaired, says Dr William Rowland. His poem, ‘Omdat ek die stadsrumoer’, is featured on the trail. He says the plants selected must represent the ecosystem – in this case fynbos and succulent Karoo species. They should be in easy reach of visitors. And they could feature notable fragrances.

He says, “I regard this Braille Trail as a world first. There is nothing to compare to what we have here.”

 

Above: The interactive technology included on this trail allows visitors to engage all the senses. Through QR codes, people can connect with the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden and all the wildlife that lives here.

 

Giving back to the community

Ricardo Riddles, the curator of the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden, said at the launch that the Braille Trail allows this unique garden to invite the community of Worcester to enjoy the unique plant life here. “With this trail, we give back to our Worcester community, and especially the visually impaired, to say: Come into our garden and enjoy all we have to offer.”

Worcester is known as the care capital of South Africa. It’s home to the Pioneer School for the visually impaired and the Innovation Centre for the Blind.

Antonia de Barros, General Manager of BotSoc said, “This trail will leave a legacy. It’s a reminder of how plants have connected us, and how they have created that togetherness.”.

 

Above: BotSoc member Kamogelo Modimola tested the technology on offer on the Braille Trail and the use of the QR code during the recent launch in Worcester. 

Take a walk along the Braille Trail here

Signage with braille is positioned all along the trail.

These tell stories of the Karoo plant life, and why the area is so unique. Translations in Afrikaans and isiXhosa are included along the trail.

Feel the surface change

The trail route has been carefully curated, with different surfaces underfoot indicating that visitors are now beside interpretative signage.

Touching the indigenous plants

Indigenous plants have been planted beside the signage, for the visually impaired to experience using their senses.

Impact of a changing climate

It’s not only about the good-news stories. The impact of a changing climate on quiver trees in the garden is showcased – once again within easy reach.

Visitors can enjoy the wonderful poetry

written by poets who are either from the Breede Valley and Hex River, or who have a close connection to the region. The poems are available online by scanning a QR code. This links you to an interactive website where you can hear the poems, as they’re read by their authors. Poets like David Kramer sing their poems. Many of the poems are available in a variety of languages including English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and German.

‘Geheimspraak’

Other local poets who contributed to the Braille Trail include Dr William Rowland, Floris A. Brown and Suenel Bruwer-Holloway. Here Suenel takes a moment to enjoy her own poem, ‘Geheimspraak’, during the launch of the trail.

Smell the Karoo

A small fragrance garden allows the visually impaired to experience the Karoo plant aromas.

Here Sisipho Mqungguthu (right), Green and Open Space Management (GOSM) intern at the Karoo National Botanical Garden and Dineo Selepe (left), Groen Sebenza horticulture intern show off their support in creating the fragrance corner.

A partnership project

The Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden Braille Trail is a partnership project between the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Karoo Desert garden, BotSoc, the Worcester Pioneer School, North-West University and its Byderhand project, the Cape Winelands Municipality, Worcester Tourism and the Rowland and Leta Hill Trust.

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