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Thursday, August 8, 2013

accessible gardening

One of the goals of our community garden is to make our space more accessible to people with varying physical abilities.  Coming into this project with no experience in accessible gardening, I've had a steep learning curve and I feel like most of the time I'm making things up as I go along - which is about how I feel about gardening in general.  But I also feel that we're making at least slow progress with improving gardening accessibility.  Last year, we partnered with a local Eagle Scout to install two raised beds that we've dubbed our "no bend plots." 

The beds are three feet high and four by eight feet across.  The two gardeners sharing this plot both use scooters and have benefited from the raised height of the bed.  They have been able to plant and do general gardening activities without having to leave their chairs.  

At the beginning of the season, we realized that water access would be an issue (like I said, making this up as we go along).  One of our garden committee members came up with this nifty technique for making the hose connected to our rain catch system easier to reach.  It has been working well so far and has allowed these gardeners to water their garden plot independently. 

BUT....what to do about all that grass surrounding the bed?  Grass does not get along well with scooters or walkers or wheelchairs.  Especially when the grass is wet.  We've seen lots of spinning wheels and frustrated faces.  The gardeners have been troopers, but we want gardening to be as pleasant and enjoyable for them as it is for the rest of the gardeners.  We've looked into this option for dealing with the grass issue and this guide for making paths more accessible, and the plan is to work on these projects next season. 

When talking to one of my coworkers of our ongoing quest for garden accessibility, she invited us over to her house for a tour of her garden.  My coworker uses a walker and has made great changes to her backyard garden, transforming it into an accessible paradise.  First - her wonderful deck complete with a sitting area, lots of pots, and a wide ramp down to the lower portion of the garden. 

She's made good use of ledges, covering them with pots of herbs for cooking.  She can access these right outside of her backdoor. 

Pipes are installed around her deck area with extendable hoses for easier watering of her backyard plants.  

One of my favorite parts of her garden was this raised tomato bed.  The downward angle of the bed makes it easier for gardeners in wheelchairs or scooters to get closer to their plants.  A necessity for planting, weeding, and harvesting.  It also has a smaller width which makes it easier to reach the middle of the plot (another perk for folks who have difficulty bending and reaching).  If we would ever add additional "no bend" plots to the community garden, I'd like to use this design. 

Notice that the whole backyard area is covered in flat, hard surfaces - not grass.  While not great for overall water drainage, covering grass is almost a necessity for gardeners who use assistive mobility devices.  Grass does not get along well with wheels. 

I was very appreciative for the opportunity to see my coworker's garden and for what she shared about her gardening journey.  She even shared one of her first tomatoes with me!  YUM.  

This whole accessibility adventure has been extremely educational and a great lesson for me.  I take so much for granted, including my health and even something as simple as being able to walk through grass and bend down to harvest my vegetables.  I've began seeing our garden in a new light, wondering how we can ensure access to all parts of our garden for people with all types of abilities.  Gardening is such a wonderful, therapeutic, nurturing activity; it really should be available to everyone.  

Have any accessible gardening resources?  Please feel free to share!

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