Zach Thompson, now 18, began Cub Scouts when he was just 6 years old. On July 18, Thompson was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout. But rank alone hasn't been the only fruit of Thompson's hard work and dedication: Thompson's Eagle Scout project--a sensory garden for the Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired--has cultivated acclaim among both the visually impaired and members of the surrounding community. The visually impaired stroll through Thompson's garden not to see it, but to feel, smell, taste and even hear it. Recently, I sat down with the University High School senior at Cuvée World Bistro, where he works as a host.

How do you have the time for work, high school and Boy Scouts?

It's very complicated. You actually meet every Monday night, and you learn about what campouts are coming up and what merit badges are being offered. ... You have to manage it; it's kind of hard.

What made you decide to build a sensory garden? How did you get your project going?

Well, my brother (Michael Thompson) had actually done the irrigation for the garden about a year and a half ago. And the guy I was working with--Rob Lizzard, who works with SAAVI--(told me), "We need to build a garden; we need to build this thing up and get something going." He has about nine projects lined up, because there's so much to do with that place. So, I went ... and got an idea of what I wanted to do. I met up with a local landscaping artist by the name of Mike Anundson, and he helped me with the design.

I understand you dedicated the sensory garden to your grandpa?

Yeah. He was an Eagle Scout. He got his Eagle Scout award in 1939. And he's visually impaired. We had a dedication ceremony (toward) the end of June in his honor. We put (up) a plaque that says it's dedicated to Colonel J. Hays Metzger.

What did you learn about the visually impaired during the course of building this garden?

When I built the garden, I built it specifically to (their) needs. I had to make it wheelchair accessible. I had to put dirt linings on the sides of the (trail), so that when they're using the walking sticks, they can know where the trail goes. I realized you had to be really specific. ... I blindfolded myself, and I used a walking stick to go through to make sure it was all right. That made me realize the intensity of being visually impaired.

What types of plants are in the garden?

There are three sections of the garden: There's the herb garden, which is the first section; then there's the flagstone patio area; and there's the rear section--it has the Arizona orange tree (and) a lot of the tasting plants. ... We actually have a plant in there called Mexican Bird of Paradise, which attracts wildlife. There's basil and lemon meringue, and we have a chocolate-smelling plant. We have a coneflower and salvia plants. The salvia plants are a rough texture. ... You run your fingers across, and it's prickly but soft. The flowers that bloom on them are really intricate; there are so many different textures on the flowers themselves.

How did you finance the garden?

I got the flagstone donated, which is $150 worth of flagstone. And then I got topsoil donated. I got a bunch of different plants donated from several different greenery places around Tucson. ... And all these people I got donations from were people that were involved in Boy Scouts or Eagle Scouts themselves. And the people I didn't get donations from, they weren't in Boy Scouts.

How are the visually impaired reacting to your garden?

I've actually gotten a lot of great reactions out of people. Some people who have walked in the garden say it's absolutely lovely. They say even though they can't see it, they can get a mental image from the texture, the smells (and) the wildlife. They say it's something SAAVI needed. But the sensory garden is aesthetically pleasing as well. It's something you can view and enjoy.

What was your toughest merit badge?

My toughest merit badge was personal management. You had to set up a three-month system that managed your income and what you spent. This was when I was 14 or 15. ... There are some merit badges they want you to do because they teach you things you might need in life, but they are things you don't want to know about when you're 14 or 15.

What do you have planned for your future?

I'm applying to the United States Naval Academy and the United States Air Force Academy. ... I have to write congressmen and get nominations, so it's pretty hectic. ... I'm going to apply to Boston University, the UA and USC. I'll study systems engineering. ... But I want to be a fighter pilot. That's been my dream.

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