The Ability to Garden: How to Garden Strong and Garden On

The Ability to Garden: How to Garden Strong and Garden On
  • Posted March 22, 2012

Disabilities might appear to make gardening a challenging, if not impossible, task. Borrowing from the field of Horticultural Therapy, however, makes the difficult more than doable. The principals and tools used by professional therapists work just as well in a home garden setting, for those in what is classed as High Function Disability. Those in the high function group may be in the earliest stage of dementia, suffering from arthritis, or have less severe mental or physical impairments. Others may be recovering from knee surgery or relearning life skills after a stroke or brain injury. Individuals in the high function category are likely to be able to perform many or all basic gardening tasks with a few simple changes to garden layout or tools. 

A lack of smooth and level paths and porch, patio and deck surfaces is often a deterrent to the disabled gardener getting to the gardening area. Be sure that the material used, in its current condition, is negotiable for the intended gardener - a solid, but slightly uneven brick patio or wood deck that poses no problems for a wheelchair user could prove hazardous to someone using a walker or cane. Paths and gardening spaces for those with wheelchairs, walkers or an unsteady gait should also be of generous width and kept free of debris.

For those able to get to the garden, but with difficulty bending, kneeling or reaching; the garden can be raised to a comfortable work height. For gardeners using wheelchairs or needing to sit, raised beds can be built like tables so the space beneath can accommodate a wheelchair or even a standard chair or stool. Planters mounted on deck rails or placed on stable plant stands also work for seated or standing gardeners. Lightweight planters mounted at a comfortable work level, on a full wall for standing gardeners or a half wall for seated, also raise things up both physically and decoratively. 

Trowels and other hand tools are available with longer handles, which helps those with limited reach. Also helpful are tools with ergonomically designed handles which transfer the work from the wrist and fingers to the forearm, making them a good choice for those with wrist or hand strength issues. Several lines of such tools for working the soil, planting and weeding are available. Hand tools for pruning and trimming are now available with ratcheting mechanisms which greatly reduce the amount of hand strength needed for cutting tasks. Limited reach, as well as hand, arm or shoulder weakness, can also cause issues with using watering attachments for hoses or using watering cans. Lightweight watering wands cut down on reaching with their extended length.  Many wands also come with self-coiling hose that is much lighter and easier to manipulate than traditional garden hose. For those times when a traditional hose and gun-type sprayer are still desired, stress to weak or arthritic hands can be reduced by using a sprayer that can easily be locked into the spray mode with the flip of a lever or catch - shop carefully for these, as many have tiny, stiff little levers difficult for even strong hands to manipulate. Those with severely limited hand or arm strength or limited range of motion, can still assist in watering smaller potted plants by using a turkey baster half-full of water. It takes minimal hand strength and doesn’t require the lifting and control that a watering can would.

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The Ability to Garden: How to Garden Strong and Garden On

Garden On!! Hit List

Ease access to plants with:

  • Level, firm pathways
  • Raised plantings areas
  • Seating accommodation

Ease tasks with tools that:

  • Extend reach
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Require less strength