Physically challenged people can still enjoy garden

Recently, I received an e-mailed letter from a lady who described herself as disabled. She wrote that she had always enjoyed tending her garden, but, due to her physical disability, she felt nervous about trying to work around her flowers and shrubs. She wondered if I had any ideas that would be useful to physically challenged people such as herself.
I shared the e-mail with my wife Cheryl who immediately recognized the importance of the subject. Cheryl went to work on some research, and what follows is largely based on the response that she sent to the lady and to others who are faced with similar challenges.
Here are some tips on how to make gardening easier for those with disabilities, whether they have arthritis, are in a wheelchair or are visually impaired. Maybe you or someone in your household has difficulty getting around in the garden, so let's see what can be done to make it easier and more enjoyable.
Raised beds and planters Gardening in raised beds and planters makes the plants much more accessible to reach. A raised bed about 2 to 3 feet wide should work for most people, but you can make it wider than that if you will be able to access it safely from both sides. An important consideration is the height of the bed and it should match the needs of the person gardening in it. For example, a person in a wheelchair would want the height anywhere from 18 to 24 inches tall, while someone with arthritis may want to garden standing and could use a height in the 3 to 4 foot range.
Containers Instead of planting at ground level, use lots of pots or other containers such as window boxes at an appropriate height. To help reduce the weight, use Styrofoam peanuts in the bottom half of the containers and fill with soil. You can plant just about everything from seeds and perennials to small shrubs and small trees in containers. For ease in moving the pots, use wheeled caddies that are available at most hardware stores.
Hanging baskets Gardeners who have difficulty reaching up or need to remain seated can still enjoy planting in hanging baskets. Simply locate the baskets at lower levels or place them on benches while you work on them at a convenient height.
Garden up! Another way to avoid excessive stooping or kneeling is to use trellises and other types of plant supporters. Once climbing plants grab hold of the trellis, fence or pergola, they quickly climb to eye level and beyond, so they can be clipped and trimmed, or simply enjoyed, while standing or seated. A climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea Petiolaris) is easy to grow, care free and very long lived. American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) is another good choice with its yellow-orange fruit that attracts birds in the fall, or perhaps English Ivy.
Walkways and paths Walkways should be a minimum of 3 feet wide. Ramps should be made of a non-slippery material and a handrail may be necessary. There are many possible surface materials for walkways. While packed soil is one of the cheapest, it will be muddy during wet weather. Sandstone pavers and brick are also good options but will be more costly. Remember, wood will work, but will be slippery when wet.
Sight and sound For the visually impaired, choose plants that offer bright colors, variety of textures and lots of fragrance. A wide assortment of perennials and herbs works wonders for the senses. Group large areas of plants according to colors for more impact, as those with only partial visual problems will be able to locate them easier. Use sound effectively. Add into the garden chimes, wind mills, fountains, and birdhouses to create soothing sounds.
For further reading on how to remake a garden to be more accommodating for those with physical disabilities or limitations, check out these books at your local library, bookstore or online: "Accessible Gardening for People with Physical Disabilities: A Guide to Methods, Tools, and Plants" by Janeen R. Adil "Accessible Gardening: Tips & Techniques for Seniors & the Disabled" by Joann Woy
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit
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