A labyrinth is designed to invite reflection. Unlike a maze, there are no obstacles; one can simply enjoy the journey along a defined path. So it is in the labyrinthine garden of HolLynn D’Lil’s home in the Sonoma County town of Graton.
A series of raised beds, the garden’s design has a second purpose: It allows D’Lil to tend every portion from her wheelchair via concrete paths.
The labyrinth is carved from land between D’Lil’s modest house and a creek. Each loop contains a theme with the design and plantings honoring the body, mind and heart. All leads to the center spiral, which D’Lil likens to the inner ear. It’s the culmination of a symbolic journey into her “listening-path labyrinth.”
She was a fresh graduate of Texas A&M, driving home after a teaching job in 1967, when an automobile accident left her a paraplegic.
About eight years later, the disability rights movement began to get under way. “By now, I had two grade-school children,” she says, “children that I could not take to the library or the movies for lack of access.”
Wanting to be heard, she became involved in the 1977 sit-in at San Francisco’s Federal Building to urge the Carter administration to implement Section 504, the model for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. That put her on the path to more than 30 years of involvement as an advocate for accessibility. She spent 11years as accessibility specialist for California’s Department of Rehabilitation, served on federal and state boards, consulted on codes and regulations, and has presented hundreds of seminars throughout the state.
“One must listen in order to understand the diverse needs of the physically impaired and how best those needs can be addressed,” she says.
Eight years ago, needing a break from the demands of her work, D’Lil set out with a friend to explore the North Coast. The trip home to Sacramento, took them through Graton, where she was struck with the town’s accessibility. “Shops, restaurants, sidewalks, there was nowhere I could not easily go, she says. “Tiny Graton had it right.” Deciding she didn’t need to live in Sacramento to do what she did, she made the move.
Through her love of gardening, D’Li! quickly connected to her new community. She is now helping establish a park on unused property in the town center and is in her second term as president of the Graton Community Club, which hosts its 86th Flower Show and Plant Sale this month.
As she rolls through the labyrinth, raised beds allow her to tend plants using long-handled pruners and cultivators. Metal garbage cans
put dwarf citrus within plucking height.
Lettuce is harvested out of a wheelbarrow. Runoff from the hard surfaces is diverted into an underground water-retention system that prevents overflow into the creek.
Charming touches are found throughout the garden: a heart -shaped red glass paperweight on a small bench in the “freeing of the heart” loop; an antique birdcage, dripping with potato vine; salvaged columns arranged like ruins at the back entrance.
When D’LiI asked her son if he’d build her a tool shed resembling an outhouse, the result was a miniature, ornate Victorian that D’Lil calls “the outpalace.” A path leads to her art studio, with its colorfully trimmed windows and doors.
Ponds in galvanized livestock tanks provide D’Li! with a “big education about dragonflies” as she follows every step of their life cycle: mating, egg laying, nymphs attached to cattails growing in the ponds, and emergence as the “simply gorgeous” bright-orange flame skimmers.
“The garden is a constant wonder to me,” she says. “I never cease to be amazed. All it takes is sunlight, water and a little food, and it becomes a work of art. ”
Artistry extends into the concrete floors of her house; a painted rendition of the creek wanders through, complete with a stenciled fish and paw prints along its banks. A meadow of painted wildflowers takes the place of a rug under the dining table.
D’Lil added footage to her small house so she could install windows to frame views of the garden, which is certified as a Habitat Garden by the National Wildlife Federation
There is nothing about the garden that shouts “accessibility,” yet it is something everyone can enjoy – as D’Lil believes all places should be.