Many would agree that gardening is one of the best hobbies around. Not only is it entertaining and rewarding, but it’s a great, low-stress form of exercise that can help us to get out in the sun and top up our vitamin D levels. Plus, gardening can be beneficial for our mental wellbeing.
If you’re a wheelchair user, the prospect of getting stuck into gardening might be a bit daunting. Often, much of the work is done at ground level and involves transporting tools, plants, and garden waste around – as well as moving across challenging terrain like grass and dirt.
However, with a bit of creativity, ingenuity, and planning, it’s possible to make gardening an accessible pastime.
With this in mind, we’ve come up with eight ways to make gardening more accessible if you’re a wheelchair user.
1. Make use of raised beds
If you’re a wheelchair user, you might not be able to kneel – and bending over from a sitting position to do tasks at floor level can place strain on your body. But, by bringing your garden up to your level, you will hopefully be able to work more comfortably, without the worry of hurting yourself.
A raised bed is a gardening bed that’s been built up from the ground. As they can be built to any size, the height of your beds will be down to personal preference and will likely depend on the height of your chair. However, to give you a general idea of what most people find comfortable, it’s recommended that they be at least 24 inches high.
While using raised beds in your garden is beneficial from an accessibility perspective, they’re also a way for you to introduce an area of different soil into your garden. This is helpful if the soil naturally found in your garden is quite poor or you want to match plants with the type of soil that best suits their growing conditions.
Plus using raised beds increases drainage, which makes them ideal for growing a variety of plants from fruit and vegetables to herbaceous perennials.
When deciding where you’d like to place your raised beds, it’s most important to think about it from an accessibility point of view. For instance, where’s easiest to get to? And where’s relatively flat, so you can park your chair beside them and work easily?
Though you’ll also need to consider placing your raised beds in places where they can get the right amount of sunlight. Plus, if you’d like them to be a dynamic and interesting feature of your garden, you might want to get creative with the layout.
If you decide you want to add raised beds to your garden, then you have a few options, the first of which is enlisting the help of a landscape gardener. They can help you build and install your raised beds, and suggest some ideas for layout and design.
You can also order made-to-measure raised beds like these ones from Wood Blox. These are fully customisable and just need putting together. Or you can choose from a range of sizes and shapes at certain gardening centres, like Homebase.
Alternatively, if you’re into woodworking and carpentry, you could try making your own.
2. Consider tabletop gardens
Another great feature that you can incorporate into your garden to improve wheelchair accessibility is a tabletop garden. And you can use these in tandem with, or instead of, more traditional-style raised beds.
Tabletop gardens have many of the same advantages as raised beds. Most importantly, they limit the need to bend down – preventing any unnecessary strain and injury. Although, there are a few key differences.
Firstly, tabletop gardens are set on legs and set to a height that allows you to slide your legs and chair underneath. This means that you can work forward-facing, instead of side-on as with more traditional raised beds – which may be more comfortable, depending on your personal preferences.
Tabletop gardens are also more portable than traditional raised beds, so they can be moved to more convenient locations when needed. You can even buy (or build) one on wheels.
The downside of tabletop gardens is that they’re a little more restrictive than traditional raised beds when it comes to what you can grow in them because the soil depth is limited to around six inches. But they can still be perfect for growing a range of flowers, herbs, and a few different types of root vegetables such as radishes and carrots.
If you’re interested in adding a tabletop garden to your garden, and you’re interested in woodworking, then you could consider making your own from scratch, provided that you’re able to safely do so. This video will show you how.
Alternatively, you could simply repurpose an old table and place containers on top of it.
3. Why not go vertical?
We’re used to seeing things like jasmine, sweet peas, and ivy being grown on fences and trellises, but it’s not only climbing plants that you can grow vertically.
Vertical gardens have become increasingly popular over the past few years – especially since the pandemic. This is because they can be set up in tiny spaces like balconies and courtyards.
By using vertical gardens, you can save space and keep your garden floor free of clutter. And, because they can be set at any height, vertical gardens are also a great accessibility feature for wheelchair gardeners.
The premise behind vertical gardens is simple: to grow plants along and up vertical surfaces, such as fences and walls. Some people may do this using trellises while others might hang pots and baskets.
To see a few examples and get some creative inspiration, you might want to check out these vertical garden ideas from Real Homes.
4. Incorporate hanging baskets
Like vertical gardens, hanging baskets are an excellent way to make the most of the space that you have available. They also add another dynamic dimension to your garden because when we move through a garden with hanging baskets, it’s as if we’re surrounded by lush plants from all sides.
As a wheelchair user, you might be thinking that having hanging baskets in your garden isn’t the best idea because they’re often positioned out of reach from a sitting position. But, Hi-Lo hanging baskets that are operated by a pulley system, like this one from Crocus, can make looking after hanging baskets simple and easy.
These systems allow you to lower hanging baskets to a suitable level (for watering, planting, etc) and then raise them up again when you’re finished.
Using hanging baskets and vertical gardens to make the most efficient use of space won’t only give you more growing space, it’ll also limit the amount of manoeuvring around in your garden that you’ll have to do.
5. Consider creative irrigation solutions
Watering your plants is one of the most important jobs in any garden but it can sometimes be tricky if you’re a wheelchair user. Going back and forth to the tap to fill up your watering can and then transporting it to your flowerbeds can make for strenuous work, and pulling a hose around can be a trip hazard.
To make this job easier, why not consider some creative irrigation solutions? For example, soaker hose systems are popular among people with large gardens. These are lines of hose that run along your flowerbeds and slowly drip water into them – and they’re an easier, more efficient way to water your plants and use less water.
For more information on soaker hoses and how to install them, why not check out this YouTube video?
Another creative irrigation solution to think about is using wicking beds. These are self-watering raised gardening beds that draw water up into the soil from a reservoir below.
Wicking beds are perfect for wheelchair users because they combine a low-maintenance watering solution with the convenience of a raised bed.
To find out more about these, why not visit the Polytunnel Gardening website? And, to learn how to make one, take a look at the video below.
6. Think about adding a path
The most obvious hurdle faced by wheelchair gardeners is getting from place to place. So, if you have a large garden, then why not think about creating a path through it?
A path that’s ideal for wheelchair gardeners needs a couple of things. Firstly, it needs to be wide enough (most people recommend 3-4 feet). This is so the wheelchair itself will fit – but also so you have enough space to turn around.
Secondly, the path needs to be made of an appropriate material. If it’s just a strip of bare earth, then it’ll eventually become rutted by the wheels of your chair – and it’ll also hold water and become boggy when it rains.
It’s best to use something that’s smooth, stable, and weatherproof. Many experts recommend resin-bound gravel, poured concrete, or large format tiles. Although, if using tiles, you’ll want to make sure that they’re tightly laid to ensure movement is smooth and easy.
Like everything on this list, you can get creative with your pathway and make it your own. Just because something is functional, doesn’t mean it can’t look great and add character to your garden. So why not take a look at this garden path inspiration on Pinterest? Or get in touch with a landscape gardener to discuss your options.
7. Take advantage of adaptive tools
Unfortunately, the average gardening tools that you’re likely to find in your local garden centre are designed with able-bodied people in mind – making them uncomfortable and sometimes, impossible, to use.
But, thankfully, there are lots of tools out there designed specifically to make gardening easier for people with various disabilities.
For example, as we’ve already mentioned, bending down to do gardening tasks at floor level can be strenuous for wheelchair gardeners and may even put you at risk of injury. Though, as we all know, weeds can sprout up any time – especially on the ground.
With this gripping weed puller, you can remove entire weeds at ground level comfortably from your sitting position.
Another example of a useful adaptive tool for wheelchair users is this Active Hands gripping aid, which will help you reach items that you’d otherwise have to strain to get a hold of.
Mowing lawns can also present a hurdle for wheelchair users. If you don’t feel comfortable pushing a small electric mower, or a ride-on mower isn’t suitable for your circumstances, then you could consider investing in a robotic mower to automatically trim your grass for you.
To find out more about adaptive tools and equipment, why not visit the Thrive website?
8. Think ahead about how you’ll transport tools
Gardening can involve lots of tools and equipment – and sometimes, you might be able to comfortably carry all the tools you need on your lap.
But if you’ve got a serious gardening session ahead (for instance, if you’re planting), then you might want to think about how you’ll transport your tools around your garden – so you won’t be going to and from your shed all the time.
There are a variety of ways you can transport your tools around the garden with ease. For instance, you can use a tool belt, which can be slung over the arm of your chair or fastened securely elsewhere.
Alternatively, you could use a flatbed trolley; some wheelchair users even attach these to the back of their chairs and pull them along like a trailer.
For more help and information about transporting tools and equipment around your garden, head on over to Thrive’s website.
If you’re a wheelchair user who loves gardening, then we hope that this article has given you some ideas for making your favourite green-fingered hobby a little easier. And if you’re new to gardening, then we hope this has shown that gardening is for everyone, regardless of disability.
For more gardening-related content, why not head on over to the home and garden section of our website? And, if you’re a wheelchair user who’s looking for a hobby but gardening doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, then you might want to check out our article; 14 wheelchair-accessible hobbies and activities.