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Tips on garden design for all disabled gardeners

Garden layout can make a real difference to how you enjoy gardening. Depending on your disability, it might be easier to focus more on container growing. Make sure any ground level areas are low maintenance to keep the digging and weeding needed to a minimum. 

In this section there is general information on how you can design or adapt your garden to make gardening easier and details of some equipment and tools that you might find helpful.

There is information on garden design when you are gardening: after a stroke and with heart disease; sitting down and from a wheelchair; with sight loss; with a weak grip; with one hand; if you can't bend easily

Layout 

  • Paths mown through a lawn
    Plan plenty of seats around the garden to save your energy and have some shady areas where you can sit to garden on hot days.
  • Avoid large lawns and lawns with sharply curved edges as they will be more time consuming to maintain. Consider having a semi-wild lawn with mown paths to save time and effort. Lawns are difficult to manage so consider replacing some or all of the lawn with a hard surface.
  • Borders will be more manageable if you can reach across them easily.  So make your flower borders no more than 60cm (2 foot) wide if you have access from one side, or 120cm (4 foot) wide if you can reach from all sides. 
  • Small water feature
    Containers and raised beds can look attractive and are ideal if you want to start gardening on a small scale. A raised bed can be raised just a few inches, or could be at a comfortable height for you to sit or even stand. Find out more about raised beds
  • Ponds can be a delightful garden feature but be aware that maintaining a pond can involve heavy jobs like clearing weed, and open water can be a danger. A small raised pond might be safer and easier to maintain and it will be easier to enjoy sitting down than a ground level pond.
  • Why not look at installing a low maintenance water feature instead of a pond so you can still enjoy the sound and visual interest of flowing water.

Paths

  • Ramp
    A 1m wide path is recommended as a minimum. Remember to allow enough space for turning if you use a wheelchair - a manual wheelchair has a turning circle of 1.6m and a powered wheelchair may need as much as 2.4m.
  • You’ll feel safer and will be able to get things done faster if all your paths are even, with a surface that gives good grip.


Different levels 

  • Changes in level are a common hazard in gardens so consider installing ramps. A ramp gradient of 1.15 is recommended as a general guide.
  • Both steps and ramps are easier to use if there is a sturdy handrail alongside. A handrail should begin at least a metre before the first step up or the start of a ramp. 


Plants

  • When thinking about the design of your garden and the planting scheme, try and choose plants that are easy to grow, that don’t need much maintenance and are suitable for the conditions in your garden. Also, look at the plant label or ask for advice before you buy. Find out more about easy-care plants in Thrive's plant guide

  • Picking espalier apples
    Choose ground cover planting to help reduce weeds.
  • Make sure that trees and shrubs are the right size for the space you have. This will save you having to prune and cut them back as they grow.
  • Get rid of plants that cause you problems – rampant growers, plants that take up too much space, plants that are hazardous to you, or that cast too much shade.
  • If you would like to grow fruit trees, choose espalier or cordon trained varieties. These grow fruit at a lower level and within reach.
  • Hedges provide good screening in a garden but usually require cutting back and can be difficult to manage. To make things easier, consider alternatives that are still wildlife-friendly, such as a wall or fence with climbing plants covering the surface.

Equipment and tools 

  • Grasses for sound and movement
    Consider having a table outside for gardening jobs like seed sowing and potting up. A recess in the table will make it easier to reach things.
  • Take time to choose any paving – it should be non-slip and non-glare.
  • Plan in water butts or stand pipes around the garden to save time and effort when watering.
  • Always choose safe power sources for any power tools or mower that you might want to use. All electrical equipment should be fitted with a residual circuit breaker.
  • Choose a composting system that suits you – there are many different models and bins can be positioned at different heights to save bending.
  • Plan how you are going to move things around the garden. Twin-wheeled lightweight barrows, barrows to use one-handed, trolleys or flexible buckets are options that can save energy and strain.