Tips for Handicapped and Elderly-Accessible Gardening
Copyright 2011 McGroarty Enterprises Inc.

Gardening is a hobby that can be enjoyed by just about anyone, no matter what their physical abilities may be. Whether a gardener is disabled, handicapped or becoming less mobile, making the garden more accessible can help folks continue with their love of gardening. A few simple changes to the garden can change nearly impossible garden work into accessible gardening pleasure.

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Raised beds can make gardening simpler for those who have difficulty bending or kneeling to reach low-growing plants. If the raised bed is contained within bricks, blocks or timbers, it will also provide a place to sit while resting or working on the plants within the bed. Wide paths between the beds will allow for a wheelchair to navigate between them, and keeping the height of the beds at about 24 to 30 inches will make the bed easily accessible from a wheelchair. Gardening chores will be easier if the beds are no more than four feet wide to allow the gardener to easily reach the center of the beds.

A five-gallon bucket tipped upside-down makes a convenient place to sit for those who have difficulty bending or kneeling in the garden. If back pain makes gardening difficult, there are also a variety of gardening seats available from catalogs that will make the garden more accessible. Some even have wheels to make it easier to scoot around while gardening, and many have pockets or trays for keeping tools or a water bottle handy.

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Garden paths should be smooth but provide good traction. If the path will be used by a wheelchair gardener, edging will help prevent wheels from slipping off the path and sinking into soft garden soil. If it isn't possible to make paths wide enough for turning a wheelchair, consider leaving a wide turn-around area at the end of the path.

Vertical gardening also makes plants more accessible for folks with limited mobility. Vine plants grown on fences, trellises or arbors are more easily reached than plants that sprawl on the ground. Window boxes or hanging baskets also make plants more accessible.

For some it may be easier to do all of their gardening with potted plants. Many herb, vegetable and ornamental plants will reside quite happily in a container. Plants in containers generally require more water than those grown in the ground, so keep the garden hose in a handy location to make watering more convenient, and mulch the surface of the soil to help retain moisture. Keep the hose out of the way when not in use to avoid tripping over it.

For some, an elevated table planter may be the answer to their need for accessible gardening. An elevated table planter is a shallow bed that is raised up off the ground. The bed is typically built of wood and the tabletop should be six to twelve inches deep. Drainage holes should be drilled throughout the floor of the bed and screen can be stretched over the floor to keep the soil from sifting out. The length and width can be customized for a gardener's particular needs, but avoid making it so high that the gardener's arms get tired from reaching into the bed. 

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Having the right tool makes any job easier, so make the gardening tools more accessible by keeping them in a location handy to the garden. If there isn't a shed near the garden, hand tools can be kept in a mailbox that is set up in the garden. Avoid misplaced tools by wrapping their handles in brightly colored tape to make them more visible. Look for long-handled tools that can be used without bending or stooping, and seek out tools with padded handles to make them easier to grip.

Keep your cool when out in the garden. Always wear a hat and apply sunscreen to avoid a painful sunburn, and keep a bottle of water handy to prevent dehydration. Do your gardening chores in the cool mornings or early evenings and avoid working in the hot midday sun. 

If necessary, reduce the size of the garden to make it more manageable. A garden that requires too much work will soon become a chore. Gardening should be a pleasurable hobby, one that provides good therapy for both the body and the soul.

by Michael J. McGroarty
Copyright 2011