Gardening can be enjoyed by people of all abilities. Whether you’re adapting an existing garden or creating a new one, a few accommodations can make gardening more accessible for everyone. The two major tasks are to bring the garden into easy reach and to widen pathways for walkers, wheelchairs or scooters. If you’re adjusting to new limitations, be realistic about the size of garden you can manage. You may have to learn new ways of doing things that you used to do easily. You may even have to downsize.
Wide pathways are the first step to a more accessible garden. The ability to turn around or back up easily is extremely important. Freedom of movement means greater independence. Make more space by placing plants further apart. All ramps should slope gently. Firm ground makes walking or rolling easier. Concrete pavers can reduce the risk of falls from tripping on uneven surfaces. Even pea gravel is easier to navigate with a walker than grass or dirt. Rolling garden seats that swivel allow gardeners living with chronic back pain to work from a more comfortable seated position. Consider using a wagon instead of a wheelbarrow. The load is spread more evenly and they’re a lot easier to use. They’re also handy for keeping your tools and supplies nearby.
People who use wheelchairs or those who can’t easily kneel or bend might consider using raised garden beds. A raised bed brings the soil level to a height that’s easy to work with. Three feet is comfortable for most gardeners, seated or standing. Make sure the width allows you to reach the middle from all sides. The idea is to make your garden meet your specific needs. A raised bed can also provide a comfortable ledge to sit on. Because raised beds can be expensive, install them over several seasons to spread out the cost. A galvanized water trough is a more affordable alternative to a wooden raised bed. Purchase them at hardware or farmer supply stores.
Most tools can be modified to meet the needs of any gardener. Lightweight tools with long handles work best for those with limited hand or arm movement. Many tools are ergonomically designed to reduce stress and fatigue. Other adaptations include extra-large grips or loppers and shears with ratchets for those with arthritis or decreased hand strength. Cushioned kneelers make working on your knees more tolerable. Grabbers extend your reach. Short cords attached to tool handles make for easy recovery of dropped or misplaced items. Replace traditional handles on water spigots with levers to make them easier to use. Large umbrellas provide shade for those who are on medications or are sensitive to sunlight.
People with disabilities enjoy doing the same things as people without disabilities, and gardening is no exception.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org