Gardening is a beneficial form of exercise – it builds strength and endurance, and it’s one of the physical activities with the lowest impact. Apart from it being an excellent physical therapy, gardening is also a stress-reliever, as this research done in the Netherlands shows.
Looking at what others do to create the perfect gardening environment is always a great idea. Mark Lane was left in a wheelchair after a car crash, yet the BBC Gardeners’ World presenter says that “just being outside surrounded by nature… it’s mindfulness, I suppose. You become focused and before you know it you’ve forgotten your problems”.
We will also be exploring Niki Preston’s advice, a blogger who describes herself as “having two green fingers” and is a pioneer in finding the best gardening tools, especially for those with disabilities, back problems or anything in between.
The following is a quick-start guide for anyone who wants to get gardening, but mostly filled with recommendations for various types of disabilities or impairments.
Making your garden more accessible
Wheelchairs and walkers can be used in an existing garden, without needing to redesign the whole space. It’s crucial to have the right pathway width, grade and surface. Paths should be about 3 ft wide as minimum. If existing, steps should be replaced with a sloping ramp.
Gardening can be a strenuous task if you need to wheel through gravel or bark chips, not to mention mud after a heavy rain. When on a budget, roll-out paths can be a quick and affordable alternative to having a pathway built. Raised edgings could act as brakes in an emergency, stopping you from rolling into your vegetable patch!
Thinking about shelter is also a good idea – an accessible garden should have shady areas for working during the warmer months and a pergola or sheltered area to protect you from the rain or snow.
Equipment and tools
Tying in with accessibility, having the right tools will not only help transform gardening into pure joy, but it can also relieve you of any physical strain. It is especially important that these tools are developed with the involvement of a person with a disability, as Niki mentions in this gardening article.
Some items can easily be adapted or modified – handles can be made easier to grip by wrapping them in foam or tape. Long-reach tools can be used with an arm support cuff, easing stress on your wrist and arm. Telescopic handles and multi change tools will prove useful when it comes to reaching taller branches. When pruning, choose tools with a ratchet system to save putting pressure on the back.
In the case of someone with a visual impairment, the colour palette should be taken into consideration. Bright, contrasting colours are easier to spot than ones that blend in with vegetation. Sharp tools that come with safety locks will also help in preventing you from accidentally grabbing it by the blade.
For the greenhouse gardener (and not only), plastic is a safer option than glass. Ensure that benches are correctly assembled and always sturdy.
Seed sowing can also prove difficult. For some, it’s hard to see the tiny seeds. Other people are unable to pick up seeds or hold them, which makes it that much more laborious. Fortunately, tools exist to enable precise sowing, such as this, with the added benefit of not wasting precious seeds.
You could also consider investing in a robotic mower if you have a large lawn area. The battery-operated machine will essentially do all the work for you, and many models today are weatherproof and can be connected to your smartphone.
Choosing plants that are easy to maintain
As previously mentioned, your garden layout is important if you have a bad back, or a disability. However, the plant species you decide to add in will make all the difference in looking after the garden.
If you find pruning impossible, try panels with growing vine types of plants, such as clematis, climbing rose, honeysuckle and jasmine. These will not only cover the fence, but will provide you with a blissful fragrance all summer long.
Looking into Mediterranean styles of planting will provide you with the “look” that is super low-maintenance, such as lavender, rosemary and Artemisia.
If you like grasses, they only need to be tended once a year when they need a Spring time cutting – Miscanthus, Stipa and Molinia are among the easiest to grow.
Lastly, always make sure you take into consideration the site conditions. The last thing you want is spending time and energy in planting shade loving plants in a sunny spot.
While everybody’s needs are different, you may find that investing in the right tools will help your dream garden to become a reality. The above is, of course, only a fraction of how many things you should consider when it creating a garden that’s accessible and easily taken care of.