An accessible garden may contain a number of adaptations making it easier for visitors to both visit and work in. A number of factors may need to be considered, depending on the context – for instance, whether the garden is being designed for one family with specific needs, or whether it is a community or therapeutic garden that needs to accommodate the requirements of many different visitors.
Pathways – Wide pathways allow easy wheelchair access and a textured, even, non-slip surface provides the safest and most accessible surface for visitors with mobility challenges. The grade of the path should be between 5 and 8 percent. Provide direct routes throughout the garden. Use edge guides if your visitors have ambulating and/or visual disabilities. Audible water features and wind chimes also help to orient visitors through the garden. One-way traffic needs a five-foot minimum width to accommodate the turning radius of a wheelchair. Two-way traffic requires a seven-foot minimum width.
Lights – essential if the garden is to used at night, for safety and for visual signing.
Ramps and slopes – ramps are a good solution for small slopes. Remember to use small gradients and intersperse them with flat areas to allow users the opportunity to stop and rest.
Garden containers and raised beds – these are easily accessible from a wheelchair and also allow ease of gardening for people who have problems bending. We shall be looking at raised beds and containers in more depth shortly.
Hanging baskets – these can create planting space where none exists. When combined with a container garden, they can give a double-deck growing area. To make watering and viewing easy, buy a ratchet pulley. Or make your own pulley, using steel hooks or rings clamped or mounted to railings or walls. A long metal pole with a curving top hook can be anchored in the ground for a free-standing hanging plant mount. Baskets can be hung low so that they can be enjoyed by all visitors.
Water – ensure that water is available, close to the garden site, and in a paved area so the ground does not get muddy. Place the spigot at 24 to 36 inches above ground and use hand levers (not round spigot handles) and snap connectors. Soaker hoses and mulch will also reduce watering needs in the garden.
Plant choice – To aid in the harvesting of plants, use contrasting or bright colours. Some plants naturally contrast their ripening fruit against their foliage, such as blackberries or golden courgettes. Select plants that are high producers per inch of growing space, with interesting textures and fragrances. Use plants that people want to grow or eat.
Emergencies – Make provisions to summon assistance for potential medical or police emergencies. A wheelchair-accessible parking space near the garden is mandatory for public gardens, both for persons with disabilities and for medical/police access.