Touch ‘n’ Grow, visually impaired sisters embrace gardening

Published 10:30 am Sunday, May 14, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — “Behind you Paula,” the seeing person called out to Paula Nettles at the Brookhaven Farmers Market in downtown Brookhaven Friday, close to where The Dart landed. Nettles turned with blue eyes and a soft smile. Plants sat in specific pots on top of folding tables. 

She and her sister Annette Rose have been coming to the farmers market for the past two years. They live in Johnson Station just across the Pike County line from Lincoln County. Johnson Station is where they grew up. 

Nettles said she first met Farmers Market director Jollean Smith on Facebook not too long after Smith had moved to Lincoln County. She came to visit Rose and Nettles and as they shared plants, Smith invited them to come participate in the Farmers Market. 

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“We usually only do the first couple of markets,” Nettles said. “Our seeing person goes back to Canada in the summer so we can only do the first couple of weeks. We do enjoy coming to the market and appreciate the work Smith puts into it.” 

The sister’s visual impairment has not kept them from gardening. They actually took up gardening because they lost the ability to see. Nettles said she and her sister used to do woodworking and make yard art but not being able to read a tape measure any more and wanting to keep her fingers changed her plans. 

A crate with plants inside says “Gardening is my therapy,” and it is the truth for Nettles. Anything they sell at their tent is grown by their hands. 

“Gardening is the reason we get out of bed now. It is my therapy and it is good therapy,” Nettles said. “We have lost depth perception and peripheral vision. We have just enough vision to make us dangerous. Gardening gives us something to do. It is generally safer than wood working and we don’t use power tools.” 

Nettles said her favorite plant is a Calla Lily and Rose’s favorite plant is called Elephant Ears. Patrons will not find roses or anything which has thorns since the sisters have to touch everything. They see through feeling the plants and remembering the kind of pot they used. 

Picture this app also helps them identify plants. Nettles said they can take a picture and the app will tell her what the plant is. Text messaging or face timing with friends also aids them. 

When they do not sell plants at the farmers market they tend to sell plants at their homes. Rose lives across a pasture from Nettles so they take turns each year hosting plant sales. People can find them on their Facebook page “The Gardeners Shop.” 

Each winter, the two sisters compete in a contest for bragging rights for the year. Nettles said they can be a little competitive. 

“We have an amaryllis growing contest every winter to see who can grow theirs the biggest,” Nettles said. 

Their grandchildren also occupy their time. Grandchildren are also why the sisters had to sell over 350 tomato starters at the Brookhaven Farmers Market Spring Market this year. Nettles said they plan to sell more tomatoes and squash next year. 

Nettles and Rose have an excellent sense of hearing. They looked to the sound of a voice for a final picture before returning to selling plants. 

“They say when you lose one sense the others pick up,” Nettles said. “Our hearing has adapted to compensate for the lack of sight. We hear very well.”