Submitted by: Lynn Doxon
The first rule of an accessible garden is that you cannot garden if you cannot get there. An accessible garden has paved areas, a wide ramp to areas at different levels if you use a walker or wheelchair, raided beds, a sitting area, container plants if all the plants are not in the raised beds, a kneeling bench if you will be kneeling, and sturdy handrails. Doors to the garden should be at ground level or a wide ramp should lead from the house to the garden.
Water should be readily available in the garden. It is ideal to have faucets in the immediate garden area. If there is no faucet, pull a hose to the garden and leave it there. You can also have a barrel of water from which to fill watering cans, although this would only be for spot watering. A drip system can be supplemented by watering from a watering can but watering the whole garden with a watering can is too tedious to be worthwhile.
There can be a number of hazards associated with steps in the garden.
Treads that are too narrow. Treads should be at least 11 inches wide.
Nosings that protrude can be a tripping hazard.
Open risers can also cause tripping
Smooth surfaces can be very slippery when wet. Attach indoor/outdoor carpet or pieces of rubber mat to the steps to make them safe
Loose or lacking railings. Make sure there is a sturdy railing. 30 to 34 inches above the ground is best for most people but have it installed at the height that suits you best.
Ideally gardens for people with physical limitations should be all one level and on smooth surfaces. If that is not possible a ramp can be built from one flat area to another.
Ramp slope should be no more than one inch of rise for 12 inches.
Ramp width should be at least 36 inches wide.
Ramp surfaces should be non-skid. Textured concrete, bricks, rough wood or crushed gravel are good ramp surfaces. Pea gravel, smooth wood or smooth concrete are not as good.
Garden paths should be wide at least 30 inches or wider. Gates should be at least 42 inches wide.
The path surface should be firm and even. Hard surfaces can be expensive and you will probably need to have someone install them for you, but they are safe and comfortable. Gravel is less expensive however wheels tend to sink into it and can be hard to walk on. You can modify a gravel path by covering it with indoor outdoor carpet. Hard-packed soil is cheap, but it is usable only in dry weather.
Storing tools in the garden makes the work much easier. If the tools are handy you will be able to get more work done before you need to sit and rest.
To make gardening easier:
Know your soil. Fill your raised beds with improved garden soil and grow only plants that can tolerate the native soil where you have not improved the soil
Know your climate. Grow plants that are adapted to the conditions in your area.
Limit lawn area. If you cant mow it can be expensive to pay someone to keep up with a large expanse of grass.
Use disease and insect resistant plants. It is better to avoid problems in the first place than to have to fight insects and disease.
Keep garden tools and supplies within reach.
Locate your garden near a water source.
Mulch to control weeds.
Start small. Dont try to transform the whole yard at once.
Stop often to sit and enjoy.
About the Author: Lynn Doxon holds an MS in Horticultural Therapy and a PhD in Horticulture from Kansas State University. She worked for several years as an Extension Horticultre Specialist at New Mexico State University. She continues teaching horticulture in an online course at