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Nanjing Botanic Garden - The Largest Botanical Garden for Visually-Handicapped People in China

Volume 3 Number 1 - December 1998

Li Mei

"Able-bodied people can never imagine how much we visually-handicapped people long for Nature. My dream of many years has come true with the foundation of this very special garden" said Wang Qi, a 17-year old schoolboy from the Nanjing School for the Visually-Handicapped.

The Nanjing Botanical Garden for Visually-Handicapped People is the largest botanical garden for visually-handicapped people in China and also the only one of its kind on the mainland of China. It was designed and built by the Nanjing Mem. Sun Yat-Sen Botanical Garden (NAS) and was formally opened to the public on the 30th April 1998. It has an area of 12,000 m² and the initial cost was one million RMB (approx. £120,000). The Shanghai Zoo set up as a small botanical garden of 900 m² for blind people in 1989, but this garden was then converted to other uses in the early 1990s.

NAS began planning and designing the present Garden in 1989. With funding and support from the Chinese Division of the Tokyo Afforestation Foundation and the Japan and Nanjing Amity Foundation, the first stage of construction began in 1992 and was finished at the end of the year. The completed work included marking out various sections and building the main paths, as well as planting some trees and shrubs. The construction of the Garden was then stopped due to shortage of capital.

Not until November 1997 was the second stage of construction of the Garden begun. At this time the Garden received the interest and support from the Chinese government as well as from other people from all walks of life at home and abroad, and investments from the Huafei Color Display Systems Co. and Chinese Philips Electronics. It was finished in April 1998, with the completion of the detailed design and planting of each area and the construction of the facilities such as paths, toilets and a fountain.

With Lake Qian in front and the Purple Mountain behind it, the Garden is surrounded by attractive natural scenery. Over 150 species of plants have been planted within the Garden for blind people to touch, smell and feel. Among them there are a large number of aromatic plants such as sweet osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans), wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), banana shrub (Michelia figo) and syringa. There are fruit trees such as Citrus, loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) and fig (Ficus carica). There are plants with unique leaf shapes such as ginkgo and Japanese fatsia (Fatsia japonica). There are water plants like the giant water lily (Victoria cruziana), the water lily (Nymphaea tetragona) and the yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus). There are medicinal plants such as Japanese dogwood (Cornus officinalis), the horse chestnut (Aesculus chinensis) and eucommia (Eucommia ulmoides). There are also many rare and endangered plants of China, such as the Chinese dove tree (Davidia involucrata) and the Chinese golden larch (Pseudolarix kaempferi).

Sixty species of plant in the Garden have labels in braille. Thirty of these also have a small speaker attached to the label and a recorded message with detailed information about that species' name, features and usage can be heard when a button is pressed.

The Garden not only offers a beautiful landscape, with large areas of grass, lots of colourful trees and flowering shrubs, but also has taken the special needs of visually-handicapped people into account through particular design features. These include using gentle natural slopes without steps, placing cobbles in the footpaths in front of plants that are meant to be touched, including a 400 m long stainless steel railing, building toilets specially designed for blind people and having corridor pillars with smooth edges. In addition, stinging and poisonous plants have been avoided, while short and fully-grown plants were chosen for blind people to be able to touch easily.

The Garden is open to the public free of charge, and acts as a wonderful introduction to the world of plants, especially for visually-handicapped people.