Play dirty: Try accessible gardening!

Continuing our exploration of recreational therapy, we turn to gardening as a potential recreational activity. Gardening is a great activity that can be done indoors and outdoors. Gardening indoors or out can be a part of a healthy and active lifestyle for people with and without disabilities. It is a leisure physical activity that has been shown to be very beneficial in a variety of ways. Gardening and gardening-related activities promote health and wellness; focus on fine/gross motor skills, flexibility, balance, and hand/eye coordination; and improve mobility, muscle coordination, strength, balance, endurance, socialization, and memory skills.

There are many ways to make a garden accessible for everyone. A barrier-free garden can be as simple as an easily accessible window box, some potted plants inside a window sill, hanging baskets, and raised beds. Or, it can be an entire home landscape that has been designed to be accessible and maintained by a person who uses a wheelchair.

According to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD), when creating an accessible garden, paved areas should be firm, level, drain well, require little maintenance, and offer good traction. Areas should be a minimum of 40 inches wide or more so that wheelchair or scooter users can get around and wider spaces can provide areas for them to turn around. The next step is deciding on which types of containers you will use: individual containers or planters help to raise the soil within easy reach and larger sizes are also heavier and stable enough to allow a gardener to safely lean on it for support without it tipping over; raised beds, which have the soil at a minimum of 24” from the ground, are great for gardening from a seated position*; and vertical gardening allows the use of growing space without crowding areas needed for freedom of movement.

There are a great variety of gardening tools, equipment, and techniques that have been specialized for people with disabilities. These assistive technology tools assist gardeners with disabilities to reduce effort, maximize their abilities, and increase their independence, while protecting their muscles and joints from injury and fatigue. Examples include modified handles on gardening implements like spades and forks, and lightweight portable seats and wagons. If you would like to learn more about assistive technology for gardening, checkout AT for Gardening and AT Helps Farmers Keep Working, both developed by the AbleData project.

Plant selection is also an important part of making a garden accessible. Plants with bright, bold, and contrasting colors are great for people with vision loss or other visual disabilities. Using shorter varieties of plants in large planters or raised beds helps keep them from growing out of reach. Plants that have fuzzy leaves or interesting barks, stems, and flowers can be utilized with the sense of touch during a sensory stimulation activity.

As an added bonus, plant fruits and vegetables and you have a ready source of healthy foods right in your back yard or balcony!

We took a look at the NARIC collection and found a wide variety of articles on gardening from the NIDILRR community and beyond, plus a selection of ready-to-use resources from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere. If you would like to learn more, try searching REHABDATA or contact our information specialists to receive more information.

*For gardeners who wish to work from a seated position and have their knees under the raised planter, the height of the planter at soil level should be at least 34”.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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