Sprain your ankle or throw out your back and suddenly working in the garden is difficult, or impossible. What if accessibility is a constant issue? A lifestyle? As we get older, all of us will need a little more help getting around. Planning ahead for accessibility will make it easier to continue spending time in the garden.
A few years ago, while at Burning Man, I participated in an obstacle course set up at Mobility Camp. Part of the course had to be completed while on crutches and part in a wheelchair. The simplest tasks, things I normally do without thought or care, suddenly became difficult barriers. It was a good learning experience.
Imagine gardening in crutches or from a wheelchair. For many, it is a reality. There are ways that you can make your garden more accessible.
You can’t work in a garden if you can’t get to it. Accessible walkways need to be clear, stable, and wide enough for wheelchairs. Most wheelchairs are 30” wide, so paths should be at least 36” wide and wider is better. Turnaround space and ramps may be needed, as well. The surface should be hard and smooth. An added bonus: wheelchair accessible walkways make using a wheelbarrow easier, too!
The tools used in gardening are often cumbersome: shovels, hoes, and rakes can be difficult to manage from a wheelchair and even harder if you are using crutches or have hand problems. Lightweight hand tools can help, as long as they are durable. Tools that telescope can also make gardening more accessible. Make sure garden tools are kept sharp and stored in an accessible location.
Accessible growing spaces
Raised beds are an excellent way to make gardening more accessible for everyone and they can support some pretty deep-rooted plants. The height and width of raised beds can be adjusted to suit the needs of the person gardening, reducing or eliminating the need to bend over or kneel on the ground. And they make weeding so much easier for all of us! Just be sure that your raised beds are not so wide as to make it difficult to reach the center. Container gardening, hanging plants, and vertical gardening are other ways to make gardening more accessible for everyone. Pulley systems can be used to raise and lower hanging plants.
Garden tables can make gardening far more accessible for wheelchair-bound gardeners. Garden tables are shallow planting beds raised up on legs. This allows wheelchair users to treat the garden bed like a table, roll up underneath and work with plants at a convenient height. There are also garden tables that feature deeper sides that are still accessible.
Low maintenance plants
Bending over and kneeling are common activities in the garden, but not everyone can do those things. Low maintenance border plants, such as yarrow, sweet alyssum, or creeping phlox, look nice without requiring a lot of bending over. Other low-maintenance options include native plants, succulents, bulbs, herbs, slow-growing shrubs, such as rosemary and lavender, and edible perennials, such as asparagus and artichoke. These plants add texture and color to a landscape without a lot of effort. Self-seeding marigold and cosmos will come back year after year.
For those times when carrying water, tools, or seedlings is necessary, a towable garden cart can make it all possible.
Gardening is good for you. Making your garden more accessible is good for everyone.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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