My sister loves to garden. She loves to spend her summer hours getting down in the dirt–planting, weeding, and watering. She has a large organic vegetable garden and a circular perennial garden with paths, a labyrinth of sorts. She has filled very nook and cranny of her property with plants—herbs in one spot, fruit trees elsewhere, and flowers everywhere.
At the moment back problems limit my sister’s ability to garden the way she has in the past. But that doesn’t mean she has to give up gardening until her back heals and she regains her strength and flexibility. Not at all! In fact, gardening could do her mind and body a world of good. We just need to make some adaptations so the garden fits her abilities.
Whether you call it an accessible garden, a therapeutic garden, or an enabling garden, all it takes is a little planning and ingenuity. Accessibility needs vary, so the first step is to consider what the gardener can do and wants to do in the garden.
Methods for creating gardens that everyone can enjoy are limited only by our imaginations. Here are a few tried and true ideas to get you started:
Make sure garden paths are level and firm and provide good traction. This will make it easier and safer for everyone in the garden.
If you can’t get down to the soil, why not raise the soil up to where you can reach it? That’s what raised beds do—they raise the soil level to a comfortable working height so gardeners can work with little or no stooping bending, or reaching. Tall containers can serve the same purpose. Filling the beds and containers with light, easy-to-work soil makes digging and pulling weeds easier.
Whether you are gardening in a raised bed or at ground level, long-handled tools make it easier to cultivate and weed. Large diameter handles make it easier for people with limited hand strength to hold onto tools.
Speaking of tools, why not tuck a few around the garden so you won’t have to go far to find them? An apron with lots of big pockets is another way to save steps; pack the pockets with seeds, small tools, and even a water bottle. Consider carrying a whistle in your apron so you can call for help if you need it.
When it comes to watering, place soaker hoses or drip irrigation in garden plots and leave them there for the season. That way you don’t have to carry around hoses, sprinklers, or watering cans.
Grow vining plants and train them up a trellis or pole to make tending and harvesting easier. Vertical wall gardens growing on wooden frames are also easy to tend. Grapes, peas, pole beans, and sweet peas are natural climbers. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and some types of squash need only a little encouragement to climb.
Design gardens for the senses. Feeling interesting textures, seeing colorful flowers, and smelling various fragrances bring added pleasure.
Want to learn more about building accessible gardens?
The field of horticultural therapy focuses on giving everyone the chance to garden, regardless of age or ability. Horticulture therapists have devised techniques, tools, and methods that extend access to the pleasures and healing of gardening. Following are websites with more ideas on planning your accessible garden:
The horticulture therapy program at the Chicago Botanic Garden has resources for designing accessible gardens.
Accessible Gardens manufactures and sells raised garden beds.
“Accessible Gardening for Therapeutic Horticulture,” an article published by the University of Michigan Extension Service, gives an overview of accessible gardening.
Lynne Lamstein gardens in Maine and Florida and is currently working on a sustainable landscape. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Temple University.