Most gardeners are aware of the therapeutic benefits of their favorite hobby, and these benefits should be available to everyone. Some gardens make it impossible for everyone to enjoy because of the way they are set up. Making your indoor garden more accessible to your friends and family who use wheelchairs or walkers can allow everyone to get into the spirit of gardening.
Floors & Aisles
A solid, even surface is a must-have when it comes to designing wheelchair-accessible gardens. Individuals who use wheelchairs will find it much easier to get where they are going if their walker or wheelchair is able to move without issue. The addition of cement or flat, rubber mats can help prevent slippage in the garden, as wet floors can be hazardous for everyone. Your aisles should be spaced about 3-ft. apart to allow for turning around and backing up in a wheelchair.
The next step is making sure your garden tables or raised beds are all about 2-ft. high, as is the rest of your workspace. The distance to the center of the raised bed or growing area should not be longer than 2 ft. away from the seated grower, which enables them to reach all of their plants. This area can be expanded to 4 or 5 ft. if there is a pathway all the way around the bed or the containers so all areas can be reached from either side. Don’t forget to create spaces that have adequate leg room, which allows a wheelchair to be tucked under the raised beds. Be creative in finding ways to make your garden more accessible. For instance, you may also want to consider alternatives to raised beds, such as vertical wall gardens.
It may be necessary to purchase specialty tools that will help you get the most use out of the garden. For some, this might mean ditching hoses or heavy watering cans and going with an automatic irrigation system. You might already be familiar with those specialty reaching tools that are sold in mobility stores. Fortunately, there are similar tools on the market that are specifically intended for the garden. For example, there are cut-and-hold tools that make it possible to deadhead and prune more easily. You can be creative in this arena as well. For instance, a BBQ fork makes a great weed puller since it has a longer handle than traditional weed pullers sold through garden centers.
Lights, Sinks & Storage
Other accessibility factors to keep in mind when designing a more accessible indoor garden involve lighting, sink and storage solutions. You may want to look into either lowering your lighting fixtures or installing pull-down lights. The same is true for your light switches. They will likely have to be lowered, or you can install grow lights that operate with remote controls and timers.
Your sink may also be a good item to look at lowering, as people in wheelchairs may find that water from the sink goes down their arms as they are washing their hands and materials. As for your storage options, you’ll want things like fertilizers or nutrients on the lower shelves, where they can be reached without straining.
Ask for Input
Everyone will have their own preferences when it comes to accessibility options that work best for them. If you are designing a wheelchair-accessible garden space for someone else, talk with them to see what needs changing right away, and what they can live with as is.
If this is going to be a surprise, and you don’t want to spoil it for your friend or loved one, try looking at the garden from their perspective. For instance, if you are looking at making your space more accessible for someone in a wheelchair, sit in a rolling office chair, or borrow a wheelchair to experience it from their perspective as you go about daily gardening rituals. See what you have a hard time doing while still sitting, and think of how you can go about solving these issues for others.Using the advice above, you can help your friends and family members experience the therapeutic benefits of gardening, or guide your own garden transformation.