Garden for wheelchairs
NMSU branding

Issue: November 27, 2004

Garden for wheelchairs

Question:

I am trying to find links that have garden designs for gardening from wheel chairs and for garden designs for people with dementia. We have some funding available to us to design and implement a community garden that takes into account access for those with disabilities.

Can you help with plans, images, or basic information to help with this community garden project?

Answer:

There are a large number of articles available on the Internet regarding gardens for the handicapped and disabled. I found these using the search terms "garden handicap" and "garden disabled." If you or other members of your planning committee are experienced gardeners, you can adapt much of what is available on the Internet to your needs.

As you construct your garden, be sure to consider the needs of those who will use the garden. Will adults come to the garden, or will children also visit the garden? The design and the selection of plants and construction materials will differ if the garden's visitors are only adults. If children are among those for whom the garden is designed, raised beds should have lower walls to allow the children access to the plants and to reduce injury should the children want to "tight-rope walk" on the walls. Safety should always be a primary consideration in a public or community garden, but this garden requires that safety be of special concern.

Raised beds are good to allow easy access for elderly or disabled gardeners. Benches built into the top of the raised bed walls will allow the gardener to sit while tending the plants. The bed's width should be such that no point in the bed is beyond the easy reach of the gardeners. That means a bed with access from walkways on both sides can be 4 to 5 feet across, but only 2 to 2-1/2 feet if access is from one side only. Gardeners with weak backs and those using walkers will find that such beds will facilitate their gardening. An additional benefit is that the soil in raised beds may be "formulated" rather than just using that which is in the surrounding environment. Here in New Mexico that means we can add organic matter in the form of compost to adapt the soil if needed for better plant growth. Different beds may have different soil formulations to allow xeric plants in one bed and plants requiring more water in another. Plants needing soil with greater acidity can have beds formulated especially for them. Plants wanting alkaline soil can have their own areas.

Walkways in the garden are also important. Muddy paths make wheelchair and walker access difficult. The walkways may be paved with solid paving materials or with porous materials such as crusher fines tamped and treated to form a firm surface, even after rain. This will require that drainage be provided so that the walks do not hold water after rain or irrigation. The width of the walkway should be determined after considering what traffic will occur. Do you need room for 2 wheel chairs to pass while another person is standing next to a raised bed while gardening?

Wheel chair gardeners may appreciate raised gardens with room for their knees and the chair partially under the bed. This may be designed as a box of soil raised on sturdy legs. The front of the bed will need to be shallow to allow room for knees, but the back of the bed may be deeper to allow adequate root depth.

There is much more to consider, but first consider the garden's visitors and their needs with regard to these design factors. I will return to more specific considerations in a future column.


Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly program made for gardeners in the Southwest. It airs on KRWG in Las Cruces Saturdays at 4:30 p.m., on KENW in Portales on Saturdays at 10 a.m., and on KNME in Albuquerque on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.

Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.