A Vision for the Blind


Elvira Doolan's sensory garden at Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. Photograph courtesy of letsgoseeit.com.

A garden tucked away in Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens is a hidden treasure, easily mistaken for a botanic garden. Pathways meander through lush foliage and around a koi pond, where flowers are robust with fragrance. This beautiful garden is the result of one woman’s vision to create a sensory garden for the blind.

In 1974, Elvira Doolan specified in her will that $50,000 be gifted to the Santa Barbara Foundation for the creation of a sensory garden for the blind, an addition she was passionate about bringing to the Santa Barbara community. After her passing in 1990, Foundation Executive Director, Ed Spaulding, took to ensuring her dream came to fruition.

The Santa Barbara Foundation partnered with the City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department, selecting Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens as the ideal location. Designers and landscape architects researched sensory gardens around the nation. To assist in educating the blind to more than 75 species of flowers and trees in the park area, a plan was drafted to include interpretive braille signs and audio posts throughout the garden paths. Additional water features were added, appealing to the auditory and tactile senses of the visually impaired. Additional funding from La Vista Foundation and the Parks and Recreation Community Foundation covered the remaining costs.

With the help of these community partners, the sensory garden opened in the mid-1990s. Today, the serene site boasts an estimated 50,000 visitors a year and is often referred to as the “crown jewel” of the city's parks.

Elvira Doolan’s sensory garden is just one example of a generous individual including the future of the community in her legacy plans.  Throughout its 84-year history, the Santa Barbara Foundation has had the privilege of aiding in the fulfillment of such personal bequests, helping donors leave behind permanent gifts for the benefit of generations to come.

Click here to learn more about planned giving.

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