On a late summer day in September 1954, the members of the Evergreen Garden Club embarked on their most ambitious project to date. The 25 members of the club, established in 1947, started planning for a fragrance garden for the blind and visually impaired to be installed at Heritage Park.
Under the direction of project Chairman Jack Murphy, and in collaboration with Kern County Parks and Recreation and county landscape architect Lance Hopper, plans were drawn for the construction of the garden. These special gardens were designed for the senses of scent and touch. The blind are afforded the opportunity to experience the beauty of the garden that goes beyond the mere colors of its plants and flowers.
Fragrance gardens for the blind and visually impaired were fairly new when the task was started in Bakersfield. In the spring 1939, the first fragrance garden opened to the public in the Belmont Pleasure Grounds in Exeter, England. California’s first garden for the blind was installed in 1952 at Lafayette Park in Los Angeles.
The March 26, 1955, Bakersfield Californian informed readers that Bakersfield was soon to join London and Los Angeles as one of three cities in the world to have a special garden for the blind.
When the garden committee members set forth with their plans, they followed the blue prints of the architects before them.
It was decided that the garden would contain shrubs, plants and bulbs planted at fingertip-high levels to allow visitors to feel the textures. Additionally, plaques with botanical and common names in Braille were to be placed next to each specimen. Hopper also took special care to ensure the fragrant flowers chosen could thrive in Bakersfield’s climate.
After a year of planning and planting, Heritage Park’s fragrance garden for the blind was officially dedicated on Nov. 20, 1955.
The Evergreen Garden Club’s labor of love was aided by several of Bakersfield’s community members, clubs and civic organizations through the years. In 1955, the various Lions Clubs of Bakersfield donated concrete benches that were constructed by Rev. O.W. Motley. Each bench was 8 feet long by 18 inches wide and stood chair-height high.
Brownies of Troop 185 presented the “official Girl Scout rose bush” to the garden in March of 1963. When the Juniors of Girl Scout Troop 494 presented a magnolia tree to the garden in 1967, students who attended classes for the blind at the Beardsley School showed their appreciation with a musical number.
The fragrance garden provided an opportunity for Bakersfield’s blind and visually impaired citizens to enjoy the beauty of nature. When writing of the first fragrance garden installed by our friends across the pond, the Dec. 3, 1949, Illustrated London News reminds us, “Scent is a far more subtle thing than colour. A mere passing whiff of scent can conjure up half a lifetime of memories, with a vividness that colour could never achieve.”