Some physical challenges of gardening can be met in simple ways. Raised beds are great for someone with a physical disability. With a raised bed, the garden area is framed, usually in a rectangular shape. Most often wood is used to frame the garden bed, although plastic, metal or concrete can be used, too. For years, experts recommended treated wood for these raised beds. However, now the thinking on this has changed because of the chemicals the wood is actually treated with, which includes arsenic (not something you would want creeping into your fresh veggies). When these raised beds are filled with dirt, you can raise the gardening area as much as a foot off the ground to enable someone in a wheelchair to bend and reach the area. We have three of these at home. We will never go back to ground-level gardening because there is very little weeding to do with these beds as we line ours with newspaper before filling with dirt. This helps with weed control. Also, with a raised bed you don’t have to till the soil, usually just a little turning of the dirt with a hoe or garden fork will do. You can also use old screen or weed fabric in the bottom as this will do the same thing. Our son is able to reach these beds with little difficulty. Raised beds can be planted earlier than in-ground gardens, too, because the soil thaws and warms quicker than the ground. With these beds, be sure to leave enough space between them (if you plan to have more than one) for a wheelchair or walker to have access on all sides.
A raised bed at six to 12-inches high would not be the answer for everyone. Some gardeners with physical disabilities may need a height of 18-30 inches or more to make the planting area easily-accessible. In this instance, a planter box may work well. These boxes can be incorporated into your landscape and be very pleasing to the eye. Handles can be put on the end of these boxes so a gardener can grasp the handle for support while working with the other hand. Also, an edge can be added for seating if that’s needed. Toe space for wheelchair users can be added by angling the planter box inwards instead of building at a 90-degree angle to the ground. Because the boxes are taller, they are also heavier, so you may want to consider carefully where you want these placed, since it may not be an option to move them.
Container gardens are another alternative for the physically-challenged. Containers come in all sizes and shapes, and you can plant most anything in them. Planters are not only for flowers, but all kinds of vegetables, too. Some of your more common plants, such as cucumbers, should be planted in a three- to five-5 gallon container with no more than a couple of plants in them; for lettuce a 1.5-gallon container would allow for six to eight plants. If placed on shelves or on an outside table, they can be reached easily from a wheelchair.
There are lots of books and websites available to help with all kinds of physical needs when it comes to gardening.
Don’t give up on something you enjoy because you can’t get around like you used to. There are comfortable and easy ways to garden, even from a wheelchair or walker.
Resources: “Gardening for People with Disabilities” by Janeen Adil; www.accessiblegardening.com; www.exension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture
Pam Rasmussen lives in LaFayette. She is the mother of a child with Spina bifida and an advocate for children and adults with disabilities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org