Abecedary of smelling and touching

The abecedary of plants is a tool for discovering and learning how to recognise plants that are remarkable by their smell or touch.

It is not an easy thing to do from the gardeners’ point of view because plants following in the abecedary order do not necessarily need the same conditions, but it is really interesting as an educational tool!


Objectives of the practice 

  • To present a collection of plants to discover by sight, touch, smell. To make those plants available for discovery by disabled people (blind, impaired vision).
  •  To create a basis for further activities about the discovery of plants.

Objectives of the leader who implements this practice with his public

  • Contribute to the knowledge of beneficiaries.
  • Enhance the garden with a new asset.
  • Make the discovery of plants available for visiting people.

Objectives of the Grundtvig Program of education throughout life to which this activity is connected:

Helping people from vulnerable social groups: the practice can contribute to the environmental education of disabled persons, especially blind and visually impaired persons.

Possible educational objectives:

  • botanic
  • adaptation of plants to environment
  • vocabulary (description of plants, and description of feeling by manipulating the plants)
  • language, reading
  • awareness of disability


Material for the practice

  • tools
  • plants
  • labelling system
  • materials for handrail and foot-guide: for example  wooden poles, wooden beams, rope

Material for each participant

sensible clothing, shoes, gloves


Identify an area of the garden and the amount of space you can use for your abecedary

Observe its technical characteristics: soil, hours and amount of sunshine, water fluctuation (when raining).

Select the plants to use:

Allow one meter for each species, using several plants. Our selection criteria for the species were:

  • non toxicity
  • interest for touching or smelling
  • plant that can be easily found elsewhere and thus recognized in everyday life (e.g: plants used in the local roundabouts, edible plants, plants related to local patrimony…)
  • Plants specially adapted to our climate (Mediterranean)
  • Easy maintenance

Choose your system for a handrail

If you wish to have one, that is. It is especially important in case of using the abecedary with blind people. Be careful that the handrail does not get in the way when you need to bend for gardening, or keep a “back door access” to your plant beds. We used two different techniques: a handrail of rope with hanging labels in one site; a handrail of wood with fixed label in the second site which was inside a public park, accessible to all.

Choose a labelling system:

If you wish to use braille labels make sure the material is resistant enough for the embossed dots not to wear off too quickly. In one case we used DYMO stickers, but they wear off quite quickly. We also used engraved aluminium labels made by a specialised printing service and they resisted well.

For the roman alphabet (normal writing) consider size of the letters and the contrast between text and background so that the label is easy to read for people with impaired vision.

Draw a plan

Get the materials ready

Map out the circulation area, pathway, access on the ground before starting

Make the pathway

You can choose different techniques, but you should make sure the pathway is comfortable for people walking with difficulties and large enough for 2 to 3 persons walking side by side (e.g. a blind person and the guide) 1,20m is recommended. The boundary between the pathway and the plantation bed should be easy to feel. For example, you can use a big wood beam.

Prepare soil  for plantation (raised bed if possible)



Installing watering system if necessary

Create “how to use” guideline

Inauguration event


  • weeding
  • replacing the dead plants
  • watering if necessary
  • checking the quality of the labels and solidity of handrail regularly


Ideas for evaluation:

Creation of the object.

Participation of the groups during the creation.

Usefulness: numbers of people effectively using the tool in specially devised activities.

Feelings of the gardeners toward the object, questions in the annual evaluation questionnaire.


The creation of the abecedary require a minimum of physical abilities for the practical part.

Everybody can use the abecedary although it is designed to be specially adapted for disabled people (blind people, persons with physical disability...). A raised bed can be more accessible for people having difficulties in bending. The plants are easier to find and touch.

It is also really interesting to use with people learning how to read.

The abecedary is not an easy thing to maintain, technically speaking, because plants in alphabetical order may be close in name but with very different requirements in terms of gardening (shade/light, abundant or scarce water, calcareaous or acidic soil etc.). To have a sensorial pathway without the alphabetical order can be an easier solution.