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Accessible Gardening

Accessible, No Barriers Gardening

(Or Things the ADA May Not Tell You)

As with any garden, planning and designing accessible, no barriers gardens should consider five things:  location, planters, irrigation, tools, and plants.

wheel chair

  1. Location:  Inside or outside?  Will the garden be in a greenhouse, on a window sill, or in the great outdoors?  Regardless of physical location,  pathways in the garden should be easy to navigate and clear of obstacles.  The pathway should be constructed of materials that provide a firm, stable surface.  It should be wide enough to allow a wheelchair or walker access and should include areas wide enough to allow for turning around and direction changes.  Ramps, rather than stairs or steps, should be considered.  Edges should be raised or clearly marked to keep gardeners on the path.  In addition, there should be sitting areas, including benches and shade, to rest or just enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents of the garden.
  2. Planters:  Where will the plants grow?  Containers, raised beds, and vertical gardens are all possibilities.  
    • Containers can include pots, boxes, etc. made of a variety of materials. To facilitate ease of movement, they can be mounted on wheels, from wagons to trivets.  Hanging containers, accessed by pulleys, are another possibility.  
    • Raised beds can bring plants close to all gardeners, be they wheelchair bound or ambulatory.  When designing raised beds there are several things to consider:  height (wheelchair accessible beds should be 28” to 34” , those for ambulatory can be higher ), front or side reach (if accessible from one side, bed should be 24” or less, if accessible from 2 sides the width of the bed can be up to 48” wide), knee and toe space (can a wheelchair fit under the bed or will the bed be accessible from the side only), and shape (rectangular, square, “L” or “U” shaped; solid sides or beds built on legs or placed on table tops).  In addition, edges wide enough for sitting can be helpful.   
    • Vertical gardens can be as simple as stakes and strings, trellises, towers, cages, or as elaborate as planting walls.  

   3. Irrigation:  Water can be delivered to plants in a variety of ways:  hand watering, automated sprinklers, and drip systems which may also be automated.  If hand watering, faucet handles should be easy to grip and turn;  hoses should be lightweight but sturdy;  hose guards guide the hose through not over plants;  water wands extend the reach.  Hose carts on wheels with wind up or retractable reels make storage easier.  Watering cans can also be used.  Hand watering can be tiring so automated sprinklers, including drip systems, should be considered.

a soaker hose winding through a raised bed garden

  4. Tools:  Adaptive garden tools can be purchased from various sources or modified by the gardener.   Tools with extra-long or telescoping handles, non-slip handles, easy squeeze triggers, slip-on “D-grip” handles, wrist or hand straps, gardening gloves, can be used by those in a wheelchair, help to ease back and joint pain , and help those with a weak grip.  Kneelers or garden seats are also helpful to those with mobility issues.   

5.   Plants:  Selecting plants that are low maintenance, slow growing, drought tolerant, pest and disease resistant, make gardening easier.  Other things to consider when choosing plants include using bush rather than vines or trailing plants, as well as planting techniques such as intensive spacing, inter-planting, companion planting, and succession planting. 

raised bed tall

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design does not have regulations specifically covering gardens;   however, there are regulations that are applicable and should be considered and incorporated as needed in the design of gardening facilities.  These regulations include, but may not be limited to: Section 226: Dining Surfaces and Work Surfaces; Section 302: Floor or Ground Surfaces; Section 305: Clear Floor or Ground Space; Section 306:  Knee and Toe Clearance;  Section 307:  Protruding Objects;  Section 308:  Reach Ranges;  Section 403:  Walking Surfaces;  Section 404:  Doors, Doorways, and Gates; Section 405: Ramps;  Section 902:  Dining Surfaces and Work Surfaces; Section 903:  Benches. For further information see www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards  

There are many books and online resources for accessible gardening. Visit our accessible gardening resource page for some suggestions.