A garden is a special place for the gardener, and garden visitors. Not only does it contain the gardener’s aesthetic preferences and plants they love to grow, but it’s also a haven. Especially for gardeners who use wheelchairs for mobility, creating an environment that contains wheelchair-accessible garden beds is important.
Whether you are a person who needs medical equipment for mobility, or you know someone who relies on wheelchair accessibility for ease of access, making a garden available to wheelchair users is a worthwhile effort. By providing an experience where nurturing plants is possible for everyone, you’re giving people the gift of gardening.
Whether you want to set up an easy access garden area that focuses on vegetables, herbs, or flowers, creating or converting the entire garden for easy access is important. That way anyone, including wheelchair users, can enjoy cultivating plants in a comfortable position.
What Makes a Raised Garden Bed Accessible?
Accessible gardens with raised garden beds ensure that wheelchair users (and anyone, really) can reach the planting area to practice gardening with ease. This includes not only easy reach but also an understandable design and orientation of beds. How the beds relate to the surrounding area is important too. Pathways may connect beds to a patio, or an area where tools are stored. In accessible gardening, raised beds are seamlessly integrated into an irrigation system in an approach that is coherent to everyone who steps foot within. There is also attention paid to rest. Raised garden beds that are in direct sunlight should be inter-spliced with access to shady areas. Extra seating is included for those who can get out of their wheelchair periodically. This makes a garden a location for nurturing plants, and caring for self in one fell swoop!
In the parallel approach, a raised garden bed requires a wheelchair user to turn to the side when gardening. The focus of accessibility is on the correct height. The raised bed garden should be at least 28 inches tall, and no more than 34 inches tall. The width from the side of the bed to the center should be no more than 2 feet so that it is easily accessible from either side.
Forward approaches focus on the ability of a wheelchair user to roll under part of the bed, ensuring contact with the plants in the raised bed. In this mode, the gardening experience is easier because gardeners can remain in a comfortable position while they tend to their vegetables, flowers, and herbs. The height of the recessed area should be at least 27 inches tall, and 30 inches wide. In the forward approach, the width of the bed from the front-facing area should be no more than 25 inches.
Wheelchair Accessible Raised Garden Beds
In accessible gardening, there are many options. Here, we’ll discuss different styles of raised gardens that are easy to access by all but are specially designed for people who use wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and canes to get around. Included are each type’s accessibility and maintenance requirements, so you can make the best decisions when building your raised bed garden.
Birdies Raised Beds
Birdies are Australia’s leading and original manufacturer of raised garden beds. For over 13 years, they have led the industry with the longest-lasting metal raised beds with the most configuration options, sizes, and colors. These high-quality beds are an excellent choice for creating your own raised bed, focusing on either parallel or forward access. Parallel approaches are possible with one bed or with beds aligned between pathways. Forward access occurs through creating a U, L, or E-shaped bed by combining multiple beds into one.
Birdies pioneered the modular, rounded steel garden bed in various heights and size options. Beds come in a variety of styles to fit any garden space, from a square, to round, to rectangular. The modular “6-in-1” and “8-in-1” designs can achieve different dimensions based on how you decide to arrange the panels. The beds are either aluzinc steel or corten steel, giving gardeners multiple aesthetic options. These beds do not require maintenance, as they’re rust and corrosion-resistant. And they don’t contaminate soil over time. For wheelchair accessible gardens we recommend the following beds. Note that combinations of these can create shapes that make them more front-facing for persons with limited mobility:
Basic Wooden Raised Beds
E or L-shaped raised beds can be constructed out of wood. Whether wood beams or 2 x 4’s are more available to your location doesn’t matter, as long as they are properly sealed with a non-toxic garden sealant. A hardwood bed is naturally more long-lasting and won’t require as much resealing as a softer wood. Therefore, cedar or redwood are the most viable options. Fir and pine are on the opposite of the spectrum, rotting within just a few years without a proper seal. They are less expensive, though. Good drainage and wider planks will also promote a longer-lasting raised bed material.
With the soil depth of a 2 to 3-foot raised garden bed, gardeners won’t have to water as much and have easier access to irrigation systems that are set up within the raised bed. These beds don’t require bending and users can stand when they use them too.
Brick, Stone, and Concrete Raised Beds
While wood raised beds tend to break down over time, using brick, concrete, or stone as your raised gardening material saves a lot of time and maintenance. Because they’re more modular, they are easier to work with if you’d like to vary the design to improve ease of access. L, E, or U-shaped beds are possible. If you’re working with heavy materials, you may not need to ensure there is no breakage over time. However, bricks on their own may do best when properly affixed to one another with cement or clay.
Plants are at an arm’s length, and your garden will hold up longer. Combine brick gardens with a lovely stone path or concrete patio, and you have a pleasing aesthetic. Building these beds in a wheelchair could be arduous, but as long as the ground is level and the pathway is smooth, moving bricks or stones around can be easier than it would over grass. Another benefit to this type of raised bed is weeds are less of a problem.
There are so many elevated planters on the market, of all different types. The most typical of these is a raised wood planter standing on posts. You can create them yourself or purchase and assemble them at home. Perfect for people who prefer to stand while gardening and for those who use a wheelchair, elevated planters are great in an established garden with other types of raised beds. They can also stand as the basic format for the entire accessible raised garden. Here it’s possible to grow most vegetables and plenty of herbs and flowers.
Some plants, like deep taproot vegetables, aren’t suited to this form of gardening. These planters tend to evaporate moisture more quickly and require more water. But the ability to repurpose wine barrels, for instance, and put them on two legs to raise the ground to hand-level is wonderful. These are excellent if you want to plant herbs, especially those that can handle periods of dry soil.
Lazy Susan Garden Bed
This interesting style of garden bed is parallel facing but makes gardening easy by allowing access to plants by turning the whole bed. Therefore traversing the ground isn’t necessary past the point of making your way to the garden. Bending to reach the soil or fill the bed isn’t required, because it sits at the proper height, making it easy to complete various garden tasks. Just like the elevated planter, this type of bed has a limited soil depth and requires a little more watering than a deep raised bed.
Vertical Garden Beds
While this could be as simple as a raised bed with an attached trellis, it can also include a gardener repurposing old materials, such as converted pallets. Pallets are excellent for growing plants with shallow roots, like herbs, vegetables, and flowers. While they’re a parallel-facing bed, the aesthetic appeal alone makes gardening with them enjoyable.
Another interesting vertical option is a railing garden area. Railing gardens use features like a nearby wall, balcony, or rooftop railing as the elevation. They affix to the width of the wall or railing, making access to plants simple in either sitting or standing positions. Grow herbs and vegetables here, and choose between containers that are plastic, metal, or wood. If you own the space you’re in, you can affix bricks to the top of a thick wall creating a planter where plants can grow.
Another cool vertical option for growing plants is the stacked planter. It sits on the ground or a table with multiple tiers that make access to plants easy for any gardener. Because these stacked planters are modular, they can be any height, making weeding, watering, and dealing with pests as simple as you need them to be. Much like elevated planters, there will be more watering required because free-standing options tend to dry out more quickly. But you can skip all the effort involved in constructing a bed here.
Fully front-facing, a recessed bed is the best option for a gardener who uses a wheelchair or walker. Users planting in these beds sit with their legs underneath the center of the bed, where either a shallow planting area or tabletop exists. On either side, the soil is much deeper, sitting on elevated posts or reaching the ground directly. With this type of bed, it’s possible to plant plants that require deep soil alongside those that don’t require as much depth. This bed type also comes in several different materials: made of fiberglass, wood, or any kind of stone material.
Table Top Garden
Another type of recessed bed is a tabletop bed, where you can place tools, or transplant seedlings. Gardeners can stand or sit as needed, and the length and thickness of the table coincide with that of the bed, making watering plants or using tools much easier. Unlike more shallow types, this bed doesn’t require as much watering. Connect multiple beds to create a garden that is easily accessed by anyone.
While they use a parallel format, a tiered bed provides an interesting design without the legs that make irrigation more of a concern. They have the depth for soil and room to plant many different types of plants too. Made of any material, pre-fabricated, or developed by gardeners on their own, a personalized tiered design makes reaching the area with tools to work the soil easier. They also make it possible for gardeners to work the soil with children, who can plant in the lower tiers.
We’ve touched on planting in containers a bit in this piece already, but for those who don’t have the room for a raised garden, or for those who aren’t sure what the garden will be like in summer, for instance, containers are a great first choice. If the light is too bright in one area, for example, containers can be easily moved from one area to another. They can sit right next to tools and bags of soil on a table with legs tall enough to accommodate someone who is sitting, or they can simply be large enough to tend to from the ground.
Half wine barrels on legs make great containers. The vertical stackable containers we mentioned earlier work too. So are railing garden options. With containers, there’s plenty of room to play around in a small area or larger area. Note that containers will often require daily watering, and may need to be indoors in cold winters.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do you make disabled raised beds?
A: There are so many ways to do this! Consider the two modes first: parallel and front-facing formats. Once you determine which is best for you, you can compile a design.
Q: What is adaptive gardening?
A: This is a gardening style that makes gardening easier for everyone, especially people who use equipment for mobility. It can be adaptable tools or even adaptable planting areas.
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