Tactile Paving and Truncated Domes

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  One of the joys of horticulture is the variety of people all of us meet and all of our different experiences and knowledge. With that in mind, earlier this year I learned about the world of truncated domes and tactile paving. 


Small older truncated dome


  This past Spring, Kenny Cochran, happily “retired” OSU Secrest Arboretum Director, Beau Mastrine and Phil Olsen of the College of Wooster Grounds Department, and yours truly were walking at the beautiful campus and arboretum of the College of Wooster, worth a drive for all to see. We admired the emerging Cornus kousa and the end of the spring run of Cornus florida  and the hybrids thereof, and we appreciated the resilience of Camperdown elms.


College of Wooster



Beau, Phil, and Ken discuss Camperdown elm


Pink dogwood flowers


We learned the secret nuances of the Arboretum, that elderberry (Sambucus) was planted on campus to channel the interests of the students at the College of Wooster who play the Harry Potter-inspired Quidditch Games.  Elder wands are the most magical of staffs and elderflower wine is also of Quidditchish lore. Beau and Phil and the rest of the staff there go to great lengths to not only provide these hidden gems but also to plant unusual species on campus, such as medlars, cherrybark oaks, and yellowhorn trees. 


Elderberry beauty


  As I was holding forth on sycamore anthracnose disease, which was then causing these trees to look sparse but that resolved itself as summer warmth arrived and sycamore trees releafed, and how to identify cherry and related Prunus species by the extrafloral nectaries on their petioles, and so on. Suddenly Beau asked me about…truncated domes. Of which I knew nothing, even when he told me I was standing on them.  


Extrafloral nectaries on Prunus


As Beau noted, there are indeed none so blind as those who do not see what is right beneath them, or as he knows I always say, quoting Shakespeare that, in Nature’s infinite book of secrecy a little of us each do read. As it were and as I later learned, truncated domes are a form of raised tactile paving, used to alert visually impaired pedestrians, for example when a sidewalk intersects with a street.


More truncated domes


Tactile paving was developed first in Japan and then the UK and incorporated into the American with Disabilities Act in the 1990s. It is an obvious thing for a grounds manager, steeped not only in the green aspects of landscapes, but in hardscapes as well.


Obviously, I have encountered truncated domes thousands of times, as have all flaneurs (stay tuned to this channel) who walk city streets. These panels of truncated domes where the sidewalks meets the roadway serve a wonderful and now obvious purpose; now I “see”, and, of course, more importantly it helps those with visual impairments to see in their minds-eye. 


  Which brings us to a close with these mind-full observations of Helen Keller:


  “I wondered how it was possible, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing of note. I who cannot see, find hundreds of things: The delicate symmetry of a leaf, the smooth skin of a silver birch, the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: Use your eyes as if tomorrow you will be stricken blind...Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you would never taste or smell again.  Make the most of each sense.”

  And speaking of tactile and olfactory senses, feel the barks of these trees – then scratch the sweet birch and inhale the aromas of wintergreen. Or get that papery feel of river birch exfoliating bark.  All have these in our landscapes, even if only in pots for a few years.  Ah, therapy. 

Sweet birch bark


river birch bark