Cultivating accessibility in your garden
Updated: Aug 17, 2021
By Pamela Sleightholm
Gardening is therapeutic – being outdoors, sinking your hands into soil and nurturing plants to grow and bloom – it’s something that should be accessible to everyone. May 30 to June 5 is National AccessAbility week in Canada, with a little planning you can make some changes to your gardening space to make it more enjoyable and accessible for people who rely on mobility devices – including walkers and wheelchairs – or even those who are just getting a bit older and aren’t able to dig down like they used to.
One of the most useful tools in a more accessible garden is a raised bed. Lifting the plants higher reduces the need to get down low to the ground, so someone in a wheelchair or chair can enjoy working at a comfortable level. Raised beds can be custom made to fit your space or bought and assembled straight from the box. You can see a beautiful example of a raised bed accessibility garden at the Riverwood Conservancy in Mississauga.
Another factor to consider, especially in a home garden, is ground surface. Mulch, gravel or loose stone pathways will make it more difficult to safely maneuver compared to pavers or another sturdier surface. Accessible pathways also need to be wider and clear for people using mobility devices, or the visually impaired.
You should also consider sightlines when thinking about accessible spaces – if someone is using a wheelchair, their line of vision is much lower than someone walking. Tall grasses or perennials may block their view, greatly reducing their enjoyment of the space. Designing a garden with a strong gradient from short plants in the front to taller species in the back makes it easier for all people to enjoy the blooms.
And finally, something that will enhance everyone’s enjoyment of the garden, but particularly those with visual impairments – include fragrant plants or species with interesting textures at heights that can be touched. Using more of our senses is a sure way to make a beautiful garden even more exciting.
Just a few small changes can make our gardens more accessible for everyone and extend the time we’re able to enjoy working outside and reaping the physical and emotional benefits of working in the earth.