Those of us with a green thumb know just how much gardening is one of life’s simple pleasures. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of a well-tended garden: the fresh scent of blooming flowers; the vibrant colors on full display; the feeling of a gentle breeze blowing by as you admire nature’s handiwork.
Conventional garden layouts and designs, though, require a fair share of bending, kneeling, and reaching to take care of plants. Consequently, keeping up with gardening duties may be particularly challenging for wheelchair users and those with certain mobility limitations. The good news is that a garden can be made wheelchair accessible by implementing five straightforward solutions.
- Clear Pathway
- Accessible Planters
- Irrigation System
- Adaptive Tools
- Low-maintenance Plants
- How do I build an accessible garden?
- Accessible Gardens
- Designing Barrier Free Gardens
- Raised Beds
- What is a raised garden bed?
- General Measurements
- Planting Tips
- Tricks and Tips
- Gardening for the Disabled
- Enabled Garden Design
- Adaptive Devices and Tools
- Disability Grants News
The first order of business is to ensure that the pathway to and throughout the garden area is navigable and unobstructed. A wheelchair-friendly path should provide a firm and stable surface. Poured concrete or large, tightly-laid pavers are ideal. Finely-crushed stone is also an option but can be tricky to work with, so be sure to construct it the right way.
The path should stretch wide enough to easily accommodate the user’s wheelchair and feature spacious turnarounds to allow for changes in direction. Lay a raised border along the edge to help prevent the wheelchair from rolling off the path. Bushes and border plants can dress up the both sides of the pathway, but be aware that regular pruning may be necessary to keep the plants from spilling over into the path.
When configuring the layout, evaluate the existing topography of the land and consider possible routes that create an easy slope as well as level spots to rest. Keep in mind that some earth-moving work may be necessary to ensure the path isn’t too steep. And in some cases a ramp may actually be the best option. Look to the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for direction on the ideal specifications for a ramp.
While there is certainly a place for some ground cover and simple border plants, the bulk of the garden should feature planters that are easily accessible while seated in a wheelchair.
Perhaps the most popular method of bringing plants within reach is building raised garden beds. Lifting the soil to the same level as the wheelchair user makes gardening significantly easier. Raised garden beds are typically made of dimensional lumber but can also be made of stone, brick, or even less conventional materials like a metal water trough.
Since raised garden beds are completely filled in with soil, wheelchair users must be able to reach across their bodies and work from the side. Plants with far-reaching root systems are ideal candidates for soil-filled raised garden beds. Be mindful to avoid making garden beds that are too deep horizontally, and thus, putting the middle portion of the soil out of arm’s length.
A great complement to raised garden beds is the garden table. Garden tables employ short planter boxes lifted up on tall legs so wheelchair users can roll under the garden bed like a table, placing the plants well within reach. Plants with shallower root systems are better suited for garden tables since there is less soil below.
A vertical garden is a very creative solution that makes good use of space while also meeting accessibility needs. Vertical gardens come in many varieties: hanging containers, self-standing vertical planters, wall-mounted planter boxes, even potted plants suspended from a pulley system! Choose a vertical garden option to help add visual appeal and utilize parts of the overall garden that may not be spacious enough for larger garden beds.
Manually watering an entire garden, even one with a small footprint, can be an exhausting chore. In most cases the sole water source is located at one end of the garden, forcing users to drag a hose along with them to reach all the plants. To avoid getting bogged down with watering, wheelchair users should consider incorporating an irrigation system into their gardens.
“Irrigation system” may sound complicated, but it really can be as simple as a few soaker hoses strategically placed to ensure certain plants stay watered. Soaker hoses are best suited for plants that are arranged in a row, such as vegetables. If a soaker hose will run to a raised garden bed, then try to install the hose inconspicuously without crossing the wheelchair pathway.
A more streamlined alternative to the soaker hose is emitter tubing. Emitter tubing is much smaller in diameter than a hose, so it can more easily interweave throughout a garden. Small nozzle heads can attach to the tubing to help expand the watering radius or periodic holes in the tubing can create a simple drip irrigation set up. Keep in mind that an irrigation system can’t typically water every single plant in a garden, so some manually watering will always be necessary. But the amount of manual watering will be much more manageable and enjoyable.
Programmable timers and smart controls really bring an irrigation system to new levels. A spigot timer allows users to water their gardens on a pre-programmed schedule: set it and forget it! Smart controls go a step further by automatically adjusting a watering schedule based on the heat and precipitation. If it’s scorching hot, then the smart system will supply more water. If it’s raining cats and dogs, then the smart system will forego watering. Smart controls for an irrigation system are well worth the investment for you and your garden.
Those of you with a large expanse of turf in your garden would do well to investigate an in-ground sprinkler system, if you don’t already have one. A lawn sprinkler can be set up on its own water line and include a programmable system that allows users to assign zones to the grass and customize the watering schedule accordingly. Some may say all this automation takes away from the gardening experience, but in reality it saves water and gives users an easier time of keeping up with all the labor of maintaining a garden.
A key component to achieving a wheelchair accessible garden is utilizing the right kind of tools. Look for extra-long handles and telescoping tools that extend their length. To help give better control over long tools, consider adding aftermarket secondary handle attachments that affix to the shaft.
Stick to tools that are streamlined in design and made of lightweight materials to prevent experiencing premature fatigue while gardening. Minimize back-and-forth trips by using a wheeled tool trolley to transport all your tools in one load.
Take advantage of ergonomically designed tools that are more efficient and easier to use. Ergonomic means large and multiple handle areas, non-slip and grooved grips, built-in safety features, easy-squeeze handle triggers, and modified tool design to shift stress away from a user’s back and joints to avoid potential injury.
Check out this page for more information on adaptive garden tools.
It may be surprising, but the plants themselves actually play a part in making a garden suitable for wheelchair users. Plants that require a lot of attention can make it difficult to keep up with the demands of a garden, so focus on building a garden with plenty of low-maintenance plants.
Cut down on the amount of time spent pruning by featuring slow-growing plants that rarely need to be trimmed. Here are some slow-growers worth considering.
Hardy, drought-tolerant plants are also high on the list because they are tough enough to survive even if you can only get out there to water them every once in a while. Plus, drought-tolerant plants typically need less water in general, so they inherently help conserve water. Check out this page for a list of drought-tolerant plants.
Finally, it may be worth considering bringing in plants that naturally repel pests to help keep the garden clear of unwanted guests. This page features a handful of pest-repelling plants.
Following these five steps can help ensure that a garden space is accessible for wheelchair users and visitors. Do you know of other solutions that improve wheelchair accessibility in the garden? Comment below and let us know!
This post was written by Jason Biddle from The Helping Home. The Helping Home is a comprehensive online directory complete with in-depth guides on how to age safely at home through the use of home modifications, medical equipment, and assistive devices.
Image Source: Los Angeles Times
How do I build an accessible garden?
COMMENTS & FEEDBACK – THANK YOU
- These people make a great product. Their raised beds are ridiculously easy to assemble and install. The finished bed looks like I paid a professional to install it. The bed is perfectly straight and level and all the seams are tight. Like the previous reviewer stated, moving the boxes into the back yard and unpacking them was more of a chore than putting the bed together. I would guess it took me about 20 minutes to build a 2’ x 16’ x 11” bed. I was able to fill it and plant it that same day, and FedEx delivered it around 3pm. If you need a raised bed, I would definitely recommend this to you and know that you would be very happy that I did.
– Brian N., Chevy Chase, MD
- I recently purchased a raised cedar bed from Naturalyards and I am delighted with my purchase. The bed required assembly, but no tools were needed. I put together a 4×6 foot 16.5 inch deep bed in about 10 minutes. It took me longer to get the pieces out of the boxes than it did to assemble them. Things I particularly like about this vendor are: 1) that they have different grades of wood; 2) that the price includes shipping; 3) the speed with which the bed was delivered; and 4) the very nice people that I dealt with when ordering. I highly recommend this vendor.
– Michael A., Georgetown, TX
- I love my raised beds! I ordered one and it worked out so well, I recently ordered two more. The boxes are beautiful, my first one even looks better than it did when it first arrived – the color has darkened to a lovely shade. Also, I have never had such incredibly huge tomato plants. Every one who sees them, asks me what I’ve done to make them so healthy. I tell them it is the raised bed and fresh soil. Your service is also excellent.
– Catherine F., Salinas, CA
Designing Barrier Free Gardens
Barrier free gardens provide an opportunity for all people in your neighborhood to participate in gardening. Barrier free gardens remove physical barriers that prevent people with mobility or sensory challenges from taking part. These gardens may have accessible places for wheelchairs, and/or features for the visually or hearing impaired.
Some fey features of accessible gardens include:
- Minimum width of the pathway is 152 cm wide with a gentle slope of 2.5% or less.
- Firm porous pathway surfaces are ideal like concrete, brick or decomposed granite.
- Raised garden beds for wheelchair access is on average 61 cm high and 76 cm–1.5 m wide depending on access from one or both sides of the bed. Table planters are another option. Wheelchairs can be rolled up to the table and have space for leg clearance. This type allows for greater comfort of the wheelchair user and range of motion.
- Raised garden beds built at varying waist heights are great for people with difficulties bending. These beds can be 76-91 cm high, depending on the height of the gardener.
- Visual markers provide guidance for people with poor eye sight. Use yellow paint along the edge of pathways to highlight steps or yellow tags to bring attention to other important features.
- Communication boards or signs are important communication tools for the hearing impaired.
- Aromatic plants or wind chimes add extra sensory stimuli. Scents are activated from plants like rosemary or basil when the leaves are touched or crushed. Running water and wind chimes provide sounds that help orient people in the garden.
- If purchasing communal tools, remember that extendable tools made from light weight aluminium alloy that have gripping and other design features are easier to use. Please visit Thrive for more information on how to choose gardening tools and equipment.
For more detailed information, please see the Barrier-free Community Gardening in Waterloo Region toolkit that outlines the steps for planning and designing a barrier free garden.
Barriers free gardens are designed in a way that all people in the neighborhood can participate. Your neighborhood garden could be designed to eliminate some of the barriers that prevent people from participating in a community garden.
Here are some more links to accessible garden resources:
- Dowling Community Garden Raised Bed Project
- City of Vancouver Accessible Community Garden Guidelines
- University of Florida; Gardening in a Minute
- You Tube video on How to build a raised bed using pallets
- Thrive Carry on Gardening is full of ideas on how to keep gardening whatever your disability
- You Tube video on Building a Vertical Pallet Garden
- You Tube video on a Bottle Tower Garden
Here are some ideas for raised beds:
- Raised Garden Beds
- Earth Easy
- Building wheelcair accessible raised garden beds
- Video – The Best Rasied Garden Bed
- Video – Method of constructing a group of raised veggie beds
- Video – Corrugated raised garden bed
- Video – How to build a simple elevated garden bed from a kit
- Counter height garden boxes
- Examples of stock tanks: note taller tanks have been known to buckle
Several community gardens within Waterloo Region have begun to include accessibility features. Below are some examples.
Chandler Mowat is a garden located at the Chandler Mowat Community Centre situated on City of Kitchener land that has added accessibility features such as a conrete pathway to the garden, garden shed and picnic table that is wheelchair accessible. Raised beds were constructed in a u-shaped at varying heights to allow wheel chair and standing access with pathways ¾ surround.
Trinity Village is a non-profit retirement community owned and operated by Lutheran Homes Kitchener-Waterloo. The garden services are open to all members of the community. The garden has installed a concrete path to the compost, rain barrels and garden shed. Raised beds were built with ¾ surround access. And as many gardeners experienced sun sensitivities, a shade structure was installed.
The Good Earth Garden is located on the St John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Property. It is nestled in a large piece of land which formally was a trout lake for the Seagram family. It has great soil and hard surface pathways to the newly built raised beds. The water access was through a sand filtered well and a hand pump; this necessitated trenching water from the nearby apartment building. Three raised beds were constructed at varying heights.
Water Tower Gardens is located on a former water tower site owned by the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. The Region sold the site to the Cambridge Kiwanis Village with a condition that a garden site be included in the building plans for the 25 affordable housing units. The soil has been tested and is free of contaminants. The design was intended to keep the theme of the water tower. The pathway was created with two feature colors in keeping with the theme and provides a central gathering spot for community events. The accessible portion of the garden site was created before the rest of the garden build.
Gildner Greens is a new accessible garden located in City of Kitchener’s Gildner Green Park. Contact us for more information.
What is a raised garden bed?
A raised garden bed brings the garden up to a comfortable height for the gardener. Since it raises the garden off the ground, you will not have to bend and reach as much, if at all. A raised bed is usually a rectangular box that sits on the ground and holds soil. Its height can range from six inches to waist high. It usually has a frame made of wood, stone, concrete, or brick. Gardening can be done while sitting or standing. Dimensions can be short, long, low, high; whatever fits YOU.
Wood is often used as the bed’s frame because it is low-cost, widely available, and easy to work with. However, longlasting wood is expensive. Shorter-lasting wood is cheaper, but will need to be replaced every three to five years.
The raised bed can be built to any size that is comfortable for the gardener. Raised beds are not one-size-fitsall. However, there are some general measurements that seem to work well for most people. You may want to keep these in mind:
- Most raised beds are around four to five feet wide, or about two feet from the side to the center of the bed. This width lets people comfortably reach and tend the center of their garden.
- A raised bed’s average height is six inches to one foot. Gardeners who use walking aides, wheelchairs, or have a hard time kneeling or bending, find raised beds between these heights helpful. Beds that are 18, 24 or 30 inches high work well for gardeners who are tall or have difficulty using their arms and hands. The height to which you build your raised bed should not be so high that your arms are working at an uncomfortable height. Keep your arms between your waist and shoulders while garding. This keeps you from tiring easily and helps prevent injury.
- Raised beds tend to be about two feet high for gardeners who use wheelchairs.
- You can also build raised garden beds on legs so you can sit facing the bed more comfortably. Beds that are three feet off the ground give plenty of space for leg room.
- Gardens planted in small blocks, also called wide row planting, work well in raised beds. Wide row planting puts plants closer together. This crowds out weeds and shades the soil. This is important because soil in raised beds dries out quickly.
- General planting designs for raised beds put the tallest plants in the center or at the back of the bed. Plants are then arranged from tallest to shortest as you work your way to the side or front of the bed.
- Petunias, marigolds, snap dragons, pansies, impatiens, and salvia are some annuals that grow well in a raised bed.
- Alyssum and petunias are great examples of plants that can drape over the bed’s edge.
- Flowers, bulbs, and herbs grow well in raised beds that are six to eight inches deep. Lettuce, leeks, beets, spinach, garlic, radishes, peas, kohlrabi, turnips, greens, strawberries, cucumbers, and watermelon also grow well in this soil depth.
- Eight to ten inch soil depth is good for corn, squash (including pumpkins), peppers, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, melons, carrots, eggplant, and cauliflower.
- Raised beds that are one to two feet deep are good for growing potatoes.
- Black-Eyed-Susans, ornamental grasses, daises, and dwarf irises are perennials that grow well in raised beds.
- Perennials seem to grow better in soil depth of ten inches and deeper
Tricks and Tips
- Full sun may be harmful, even for sun loving plants, because raised beds dry out quickly.
- Soil can stain. Keep this in mind if you plan to put your raised bed on concrete or a patio.
- You may need to build a walkway if you plan to build your raised bed far from buildings, sidewalks, or in a grassy area. Walkways that are made of hard and flat materials, like concrete and brick, are easiest for everyone to walk on and roll walking aides on.
- Make sure there is water access close to your raised bed.
- Gardeners’ legs may be scraped by brushing against bed frames made of stone or concrete. This is especially important to keep in mind for gardeners who have little or no feeling in their legs.
- Remember that soil, especially when wet, and plants are very heavy. Make sure that your deck, rooftop, or balcony can support the bed’s weight.
- Grab bars attached to the sides of raised beds can be useful. Grab bars can help people stand up from sitting while gardening or help people stand while gardening.
- Most people find that gardening in raised beds is more comfortable when standing facing the bed and leaning slightly into it. Another comfortable position is to sit alongside the bed and reach to the side and forward at a 45 degree angle into the bed. Gardeners find these positions more comfortable than sitting on the edge of the bed’s frame and twisting at the waist while gardening.
You can make your own raised bed or you can buy a kit. If you are interested in building your own raised bed, check out:
- Building Wheelchair Accessible Raised Garden Beds at www.dowlingcommunitygarden.org
- Accessible Gardening for People with Physical Disabilities, a book by Janeen Adil.
If you would like to talk to someone about accessible gardening, or would like a garden assessment done, call Green Tumbs, Healthy Joints at 800-841-8436.
Gardening for the Disabled
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Home > Disability Grants Blog > Gardening for the Disabled
What’s so special about gardening?
- It’s therapeutic
- Anyone can do it regardless of age
- It’s relatively inexpensive
The calming and stimulating benefits of gardening shouldn’t be underrated. As just having an outside space that you can retreat to does wonders for your mind, body and spirit.
Enabled Garden Design
Gardens can be adapted in the similar way to your home or car.
This might include:
- Level access paths
- Raised beds or a vertical garden
- Containers on wheels
- Hand rails on walls and raised beds
- Removing flower beds for grass or replacing grass for paving!
Raised garden beds and vertical gardens make it easier for planting, watering and weeding especially for wheelchair users or individuals who find it hard to bend.
You don’t need to buy expensive raised beds – just be creative!
Such as reusing old tyres or pallets.
Our raised beds were wooden boxes on pram wheels with handles to move around.
For wheelchair users the paths must be paved and wide enough for the wheelchair to pass along.
Your plant choices can make a huge difference to the amount of time you spend maintaining your garden.
Choose low maintenance plants that provide good ground cover reducing the need for weeding.
And bulbs that flower year after year as you only have to plant them once!
Plants with textures and fragrant blooms are perfect for gardeners with visual problems. Common herbs like thyme and mint are instantly recognised for their smell make wonderful additions..
Making any changes to your garden takes time and money.
So do make sure that you make the right choices by taking advice from organisations such as Thrive.
Their new website ”Carry on Gardening” is packed full of useful advice.
And contact your local Occupational Therapist if you need advice on access to the garden, ramps and gradients.
Your Local Authority may be able to improve access from your house to the garden through the Disabled Facilities Grant.
You may also be able to get help to maintain your garden.
Each council is different.
Look on their website to find out what’s available in your area.
Adaptive Devices and Tools
If your tools are too difficult to use why not try lighter or adaptive gardening tools.
The Easi-Grip garden tools have soft grip upright handles. This allows the hand and wrist to be held at a natural angle reducing strain and increasing control.
Many gardeners find the add-on Arm Support Cuff helpful for extra control and comfort.
Anyone sitting down either in a wheelchair or on a stool should try long handled tools as they extend your reach.
They are also beneficial for anyone with difficultly bending or stretching.
Even better they may reduce stooping and backache.
For sweeping and raking a useful accessory is the EziMate Back Saving tool. This simple handle can be attached to all long handled tools to help you push and pull the tool.
Match that with a Garden Kneeler, and you’ll have the ease to get up and down as you go about your tasks in the garden.
The fact is, there is virtually a disability solution for every imaginable scenario.
You might also be interested in:
Gardening Grants for the Disabled
Thrive – for further information and courses
Disability Grants News
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