Issue: January 13, 1997

Gardening for wheel chair gardeners


My husband used to be an avid gardener. Following an accident, he is confined to a wheel chair and seems to have lost all enjoyment of life. I read somewhere that gardening is an activity which helps people recover from injuries. Can you tell me how a gardener can garden from a wheel chair?


Gardening can be very therapeutic to anyone, but to gardeners with injuries or limitations, the benefits of gardening are especially apparent. I recently discussed this with a retired surgeon. He had heard of horticultural therapy, but until recently following surgery he was not fully aware of the benefits. As is common following surgery, he suffered depression and lethargy. Gardening overcame these common surgical after effects. Anyone who has been injured can suffer depression and frustration with limitations brought about by the injury. Gardening can help them.

So, how can one garden from a wheel chair? It is possible to build raised garden beds so that the gardener can sit on the edge or in a wheel chair beside the garden and reach into the garden. Working and reaching to the side can be quite tiring, however. A more convenient method of gardening for the chair- bound gardener is to use a garden table.

A garden table is really just what it says. It is a table which consists of a box holding soil raised on legs to a level such that a wheel chair or other chair may be rolled under the table, allowing a gardener to sit at the table while gardening. The gardener need only reach forward, not turning and reaching to the side as with a raised bed garden which is to the side of the wheel chair. The depth of soil in the table should be at least six inches. It is possible to allow the bottom of the table to slant downward away from the gardener to allow greater soil depth, as long as it doesn't interfere with the wheel chair and legs of the gardener. The gardener should be able to reach from front to back of the table garden easily, thus the "reaching depth" of the garden table should be no greater than the distance that the gardener can reach from the seated position. However, if the table garden allow wheel chair access from the other side, the garden table can be twice as wide.

Corn and other tall free standing crops will be difficult to grow in such a shallow garden; they will need deeper soil to hold the plant upright. Smaller growing plants will be easier to grow. Taller crops will need a deeper soil, one to three feet deep, and will perhaps require the gardener to reach to the side to garden, but if the size of the deep garden is limited, the gardener can grow almost anything.

The soil for such a garden can be carefully chosen from available potting soil or formulated by the gardener from home- made compost, sand, perlite, native soil, and other materials. Such a tailored soil can often be more productive than the soil in the typical traditional garden plot. It is also possible to tailor the soil in various parts of the table garden or in different table gardens to be especially well adapted to the crops to be grown in that soil. For winter gardening, traditional containers (flower pots) or a specially constructed window table garden can be employed. Irrigation can be accomplished by hand watering, drip irrigation, or other more exotic methods such as Olla irrigation. (I'll discuss that another time.)

Intensive gardening practices can be applied to such a garden. It is possible to grow a very productive garden accessible to a wheel chair. In addition to herbs, flowers, and vegetables, the gardener will grow a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. The gardener will learn that he is less disabled that he currently thinks.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!