For individuals with mobility challenges, gardening opportunities may need some adaptations. By designing your garden with accessibility in mind, you can create a garden that can be enjoyed by everyone. Here are some ways to plan a garden that is welcoming to individuals of all abilities.
Install accessible pathways. Navigation to and through the garden requires careful consideration to ensure ease and safety.
- Pathways should be at least 4' wide, but preferably 5' wide, for optimum accessibility.
- The surface must be smooth and level; fill large holes or cracks that may catch a toe or impede a wheelchair.
- Ensure that water drains properly to prevent muddy or slippery spots.
- Avoid steps; if an elevation change is needed, create a gently sloping ramp, ideally with handrails.
- Concrete is an excellent pathway material; however, there are many crushed rock products that will provide a similar surface if installed properly.
- Read more about building accessible pathways.
Build raised beds. Bring soil and plants up to an easier working height by installing raised beds. Wood, stone, concrete blocks, and plastic timbers are some good building materials.
- Build beds to the height needed for the audience you plan to serve.
- Construct beds so that gardeners can reach the entire planting area. In general, beds can be 3' or 4' wide if they're accessible on multiple sides. If beds are against a wall or fence they should be no wider than 2'.
- If feasible, create a broad, sturdy ledge at a comfortable sitting height along the sides of the beds to allow gardeners to sit rather than stand or squat while they work.
- Raised beds shaped like tables allow gardeners in wheelchairs to roll under them so the work surface is in their lap. Without this feature, gardeners in wheelchairs may need to garden alongside the bed rather than facing the bed.
- Read more about installing raised beds.
Plant container gardens. Install planters to raise plants so they're easier to reach.
- Ensure that every planter is secure, stable, and heavy enough so it won't move, wobble, or tip if gardeners lean on the rim.
- If necessary, attach planters to the surface beneath them before filling with soil.
- Smaller planters can be placed on a sturdy platform to raise their height.
- Use hanging baskets positioned at a reachable level. Or, place them on a sturdy pulley system so they can be easily and safely raised and lowered for planting, watering, and tending.
Plant vertical gardens. Plant up instead of out! Growing on vertical supports frees up garden space that would otherwise be taken up by sprawling plants.
- Install a trellis for vining plants like squash and pole beans to climb.
- Secure containers to a wall at varying heights.
- Create a vertical garden by repurposing a shoe organizer.
Avoid garden clutter. Tools, empty pots, and piles of weeds and other debris are a safety hazard for all gardeners, especially running children and individuals with impaired movement and vision impairments.
- Put away tools after each work session.
- Keep pathways clear. Remove plant matter and other debris and place in a compost bin or trash can.
- Make sure that garden storage is nearby and accessible.
Purchase or create adapted garden tools. Look for tools that are designed for accessible gardening, with features for ease and safety. For example, tools with hook-and-loop straps to secure tools to the arm help distribute weight and steady tools in the hand. As you stock your garden shed, look for:
- lighter-weight tools and hoses
- tools of varying heights and sizes
- tools with padded handles for a looser grip
- kneeling pads with handles
- tools with brightly colored handles for those with a visual impairment
In some cases you can create your own adaptations; for example, wrap padding around a handle and secure it with heavy-duty tape. You can also get creative with household items, such as using an ice cream scoop as a trowel.
Incorporate places to sit. Include comfortable, easy-to-access seating areas throughout the garden so gardeners have convenient spots to take a break, rest, and reflect. Make sure some of them are in the shade of trees or structures.
10/26/2022: This resource has been updated to reflect our values in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.