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Gardens for All

March is Disability Awareness Month so I thought for this week’s blog I would cover some of the ways we make the gardens at the IMA more accessible to visitors.  When the Accessibility Taskforce formed we decided that access at the IMA meant more than physical access so it must include emotional and intellectual access as well. Let’s take a look at how these play out in the gardens.


So how do we go about making the gardens more accessible? How about curb cuts and crosswalks to start? All the new construction when the museum expanded five years ago is compliant with ADA standards. This includes around the Sutphin Fountain and all the way down the Sutphin Mall. The ramps and steps also have handrails to aid in moving about.


When you get near the end of the mall you reach the Garden for Everyone (GFE). A garden designed to be especially accessible to those with physical disabilities. It is made possible by a gift from the late Irving Moxley Springer who was inspired by her son Michael. This garden unlike the others is specifically geared to people that may have mobility, sight, or hearing issues. The beds are raised to make it easier for a person in a wheelchair to enjoy the fragrance and texture of the plants. In the middle is a sculpture (La Hermana del Hombre Boveda) and a fountain.

Garden for Everyone

Not only can a visitor enjoy the sounds of trickling water but this is the one piece of art in the gardens we want you to touch. Feel free to play in the water. Explore the sculpture with dry hands and wet. Circle through GFE and head back toward the Deer-Zink Pavillion and you will see the newly installed emergency egress from the Toby just before you reach the bridge leading to Oldfields. The exit is fully ADA compliant but integrated into the landscape as much as possible.

The gardens in the historic section of the IMA campus admittedly require a bit more work to enjoy when a person is using any sort of mobility aid. Please remember when on the road you share it with motor vehicles. Paths in this section can be fine gravel, limestone slabs, bluestone pavers, or turf.


In the Rapp Family Ravine Garden you will find some of our most challenging terrain. Steps and sloping paths abound, many without handrails. For those not interested in or unable to make the trek down into the ravine, a view of this garden from above offers many glorious/breathtaking/stunning vistas to be appreciated.

Rapp Family Ravine Garden

Throughout the gardens you will find signage to aid in understanding the history, design and plants involved. The labels tell you the scientific and common names of the plants. It includes an accession number that usually gives you a fairly accurate age for the plant. For instance, 2004-26 means that plant was purchased in 2004 and was the 26th plant accessioned that year. If the label says 2004E-26 then the plant already was in the gardens (E = extant) but was not given an accession number until 2004. It was the 26th extant plant accessioned in 2004.


Garden maps are available in multiple locations. Special signage may explain historical facts or special walks (Flowering Tree, Conifer).



Note the cell phone audio tour. Just call the number for more information. Also, always feel free to ask any of the Horticulturists working in the gardens questions. We love to talk plants (and good gossip is always welcome too).

I may be a touch prejudiced but I think truly all can access the gardens emotionally. Whether strolling through on a cold winter day in new-fallen snow or bouncing from blooming plant to blooming plant on a hot July evening one can always connect with some aspect of the gardens. They can be a place to heal a bruised soul, capture a child’s imagination, assist us in expressing love, or laugh ourselves silly…

Rose petals in the snow for a marriage proposal
Rose petals in the snow for a marriage proposal

So everyone, and I do mean everyone, come visit the gardens of the IMA. And this month of Disability Awareness is also a great time to begin to DISABLE the LABEL.

Filed under: Horticulture

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