What is an Enabled Garden?
And how can it improve your life?
Using gardening as a means of managing your mental health is an idea that has existed for a long time, and in recent years has been gaining scientific credibility; but as a physically demanding activity, it can seem daunting to people with disabilities. Thankfully, there have been plenty of smart folks tackling this issue, and they’ve come up with a number of ways of creating accessible gardens, also known as enabled gardens, which are designed to accommodate physical limitations.
So, how do I go about making an enabled garden?
The particular needs of the individual vary, so it’s best to consider a wide range of different approaches.
Tools of the trade
First, let’s consider the tools needed to make and tend to a garden. If you’re on a tight budget, try a DIY approach to extending the reach of tools like trowels or garden claws. Old broom handles can be great for this; affix the hand tool to the end of the long handle with duct tape. If you have a bit more of a budget, there are sets such as this Long Reach Garden Tools set that you can purchase. Consider cordless power tools as well, like this cordless shrub shear and hedge trimmer.
Next, think about how you will move about the garden. Unless you’re planning on a small garden, you’ll need to consider how you can easily move from one plot to the next. Portable garden benches like this one come with helpful pouches for tool storage and can be a lot of help in kneeling and standing back up. Here’s a helpful list of garden scooters that all make moving around a bit easier. Another aspect of facilitating your mobility is leaving enough space between the plots for any mobility devices you use. Try to aim for 3 feet spaces, enough to comfortably navigate a wheelchair through.
Let’s look at the construction of the garden beds themselves. Most garden plots tend to be slightly elevated off the ground, but they don’t have to be; when planning your garden, you can aim for a height than can be comfortably reached while in a wheelchair or garden bench. Consider cultivating plants in hanging planters affixed to a pulley system, or on a circular rotating fixture that can be rotated for easier access, as well.
For people on the autism spectrum, the sensory input of your garden can be hugely important. With care, you can make your garden pleasing to every sense.
- Sight: choose to cultivate plants that appeal to you. You can find many photos online of what they will look like once they’ve matured, so pick the crops that you’ll want to look at regularly. Going further, think of ways to decorate your garden area with ornaments, gravel, mulch, or whatever else you’d like to see.
- Sound: though the plants themselves can’t make much noise, consider adding some wind chimes or running water features to your garden area. A lightly running stream can be very calming and soothing.
- Smell: fragrant plants, fertilizer, fresh soil, the scent of grass after a big rain. These can all make up the tapestry of your experience. If any scent is unpleasant and grating, remove the source if possible.
- Taste: our recommendation is to place all your edible plants near each other and away from any other plants, to avoid accidentally eating something poisonous. With that said, your gardening experience can be augmented with fresh berries and fruit while you work. Raspberries are particularly easy to cultivate!
- Touch: many people dislike the feeling of dirt under their nails and between their fingers. Invest in some comfortable gardening gloves, and while you’re at it, look out for soft plants like lamb’s ear and Jerusalem sage.
Additionally, planting fragrant and distinctly textured crops for easier identification can be a big help for people with vision impairments.
Ultimately, each garden should be designed around the needs of the gardener, and the sky is the limit for different ways of approaching accessibility. Hopefully, we’ve given you a few places to start and a few ideas to play with. Best of luck in your botanical pursuits!