Creating beautiful, blooming flower beds and healthy vegetable gardens are great projects for families and communities. Learn how to create an accessible garden for persons of all ages and abilities to enjoy.
Measure Wide Paths
Getting outdoors with friends and family has physical and mental benefits for everyone, including people with disabilities. Accessible gardens have wide, smooth pathways to accommodate wheelchairs, motorized scooters, walkers, and people who use a cane. Paths should be at least 4—preferably 5—feet wide.
Raised and Table Beds
Raised beds make reaching plants easier. They should be 24-inches high for wheelchair users and 30-inches high for someone who can stand but has trouble bending over. A person seated on a bench next to the bed should be able to reach to the middle of the bed from either side. A width of 16- to 24-inches long works well. While a raised bed extends upward from the ground, a tabletop bed sits on legs with open space underneath. A wheelchair can roll under it to allow a disabled person to tend the bed.
Construct an irrigation system of soaker hoses that drip water in the beds, but run in regular hoses between beds, out of the way of paths. Soaker hose systems set on timers eliminate the need for gardeners with mobility or balance issues to carry heavy watering cans or to balance with a cane or walker while using a hose to spray the garden beds.
Remember All Five Senses
Accessible gardens can include sensory elements for people who have visual, auditory, or cognitive disabilities. Herbs and fragrant flowers add a waft of scent to the garden. Plants that rustle in the breeze, like grasses, corn, or plants that attract songbirds, add auditory interest.
The hearing impaired can sense vibrations from chimes or features that create percussive noises, like tapping or pounding. Be aware, however, that these could disturb people with autism, so paths labeled with upcoming features will help guests and their companions navigate to parts of the garden that will please them.
Plants with soft, textured leaves—like lamb’s ear—add tactile experiences for children. However, this also means that it is critical to ensure that an accessible garden is non-toxic throughout—young children and those with developmental delays may try to pluck plants and put plants in their mouths. Any vegetation within reach of any guest must be harmless.
Involve people of all ages and abilities in planting and tending the garden. Seed paper makes planting perennial wildflowers, lovely annuals, and a variety of vegetables easy. Simply soak the paper overnight in water, lay it in the raised bed, and cover it with a layer of soil. Keep the paper moist and watch as flowers or vegetables sprout and grow.
Creating an accessible garden takes planning and forethought. The rewards are many, as families and communities can welcome people of all abilities to enjoy the beauty and bounty of the garden.