Gardening With Disabilities

Gardening With Disabilities

By Michael Jenkins

We’re fond of saying that gardening is for everyone—and it’s true! At Gardzen we believe that no matter what kind of space you have or where you are, there’s some kind of gardening that will work for you. Whether you have a few indoor plants or a vast outdoor space, your garden is yours and it’s special for you! Some of us do have challenges in gardening beyond just making the most of our space or our climate, however. Folks with physical disabilities and other challenges might need to adopt different approaches in creating accessible gardens that work for them. So let’s dig in and talk about gardening with disabilities and share a few tips and guidelines for creating the garden that will work for your needs.

Let’s start with a good basic rule for anyone just starting out on a gardening journey—start small and take your time. As with so many other pursuits, it’s very easy to jump in with both feet when we start our first garden. There’s so many exciting things to try, so many cool plants, and so many projects that look interesting! It’s best however to start small—a few containers, one small raised bed, or even just one or two plants—and learn as you grow. Finding the right size and kind of garden for you takes time,and finding the kind of garden that works with your needs and abilities may require a bit of experimentation. Give yourself the space to learn what you need.

As many common disabilities are mobility-centered, building an accessible garden is another important consideration. There are a number of possible approaches to this, but some of the easiest including making use of containers and raised beds set on an an elevated surface. This allows you to reach your plants and soil without bending over or kneeling, which can in turn make it much easier to do garden chores and enjoy your time in your garden. An easy way to make a functional raised container garden is to stack up some sturdy pallets, put a sheet of old plywood on top, and then put the containers or even a container raised bed on top of that. As a bonus, it’ll be easier to weed as the elevation will help keep some errant seeds off of your soil! Just make sure to water when needed—raised beds like this may dry out faster when exposed to the sun.

For folks who enjoy decorative gardening and landscaping, installing perennials rather than annuals can make a garden much more easy to maintain and much more accessible for those with disabilities. This cuts down on the amount of work needed—including the amount of geoff the ground—and still allows for a beautiful and creative garden space. Annuals can be added, of course—in elevated planters, window boxes, or containers on a patio in order to make them easier to access and maintain.

Vining plants, particularly vegetable plants, can be grown using trellises or other upright supports. This is good for the plants as it gets them off the ground and helps avoid some pests and diseases, but it’s also good for gardeners who need a bit of help getting around. Higher up very often means easier to reach, and than can be a big boon to disabled gardeners and other folks looking to make things simpler. So employ trellises and supports in your garden where needed to help yourself and your plants.

Gardeners dealing with visual impairment may benefit from using tools, containers, and garden pathways with bright contrasting colors in order to make them easier to identify.  Brightly colored duct tape, tennis tape, or even spray paint can customize tools quickly and easily—by using different colors for different tools or containers you can even make them individually identifiable. This also helps avoid forgetting a tool in the garden or misplacing it around the house—two things that can happen to any of us!

Gardening is in fact for everyone, and there’s an approach to gardening that will work for nearly any of us. Even if you just have one plant that you care for, it’s your garden and we hope you enjoy it. If any of you have tips or ideas for accessible gardening, please let us know. Gardzen is all about community and we love to hear from you!

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