Tips for Gardening While in a Wheelchair
Gardening is one of the most relaxing and rewarding pastimes, whether you’re planting to create a beautiful and serene space, or growing herbs and plants for your kitchen. It’s a great way of spending your free time, keeping your mind and body active in the process.
However, gardening is not without its accessibility challenges, especially for those with mobility issues, which is why it’s important to understand what you can and can’t do, and what can be done in order to fully open up your garden to you so that you can make the most of the space available. To help you, we’ll run through some helpful tips for how to make gardening in a wheelchair comfortable and enjoyable.
Be Prepared – Do Stretches Before You Start
Firstly wear suitable clothing to protect your feet and lower legs. Always wear sun protection with adequate SPF to arms, face and neck. Then something that is often overlooked is doing stretches before you begin gardening. Not preparing the body can lead to discomfort and difficulty in moving, however by doing a quick warmup you can help your body slowly build up to the deceptively physical activity of gardening. If you’re interested in other wheelchair exercises, we’ve previously written about it here.
Use Raised Flower Beds
Instead of bending way down to the ground, using a raised bed is one of the best ways of making gardening accessible. These raise the height of the flower beds or vegetable patches to any height to suit the user, plus they can be built and fitted to ensure that the entire surface is within reach without straining and causing discomfort. Locate the raised bed in an area that's easily accessible and conducive to what will grow.
Do a Tabletop Garden
This is essentially a shallow raised bed on legs, allowing for easy wheelchair access, as the gardener can push the chair underneath the table and work comfortably on the surface.
To construct a tabletop garden, the planting bed is usually 8-10 inches deep, with the table about 27 inches from the ground. To avoid arm strain, the top of the planter should not be higher than the sitting gardener's ribcage. For easy reach, the width of the bed should be 3 feet. Drill drainage holes beneath the planting area, and fill the tabletop garden with pre-moistened potting soil until it's filled to within an inch of the top.
Since they aren't very deep, tabletop gardens should only be used to grow shallow-rooted annuals and some vegetables and herbs. Flower choices include marigold, petunia, zinnia, verbena and pansy; vegetable and herb choices include lettuce, spinach, cucumber, cherry tomato, baby carrot, basil, thyme and rosemary.
Use The Right Tools
The right tools can transform any gardening experience, but this is especially true for wheelchair users, as tools help navigate accessibility hurdles, and reduce the physical strain of gardening as an activity. Try and look for longer handled tools, as these will be easier to wield and enable you to extend your reach—this is especially vital for activities such as pruning trees that will require you to reach up.
There are also a wide range of specialized tools available, such as attachments which can extend the reach of your hose and modify the on/off switch to make it easier to use, that you can select from depending on what you’re most likely to use frequently. Keep tools to hand by transporting them safely in a wheelchair basket, and side hanging bags can be useful for smaller tools and equipment.
Understand and Listen to Your Body
Gardening should be an enjoyable, and comfortable pastime, one that you can do at your own pace, and this is also the key to making sure that your garden is an accessible area for you. By understanding your own limitations, skills, and needs, you can make sure you go about your gardening in a way that suits you, making the space your own in the process.
One useful trick is to position your wheelchair side on, rather than front faces, as the latter requires more extension and bend, which can be difficult and tiring if sustained over a longer period of time. This is also useful for safety, as even with the brakes secured, front facing efforts can cause the wheelchair to shift forwards or backwards with the momentum of your movements. Most importantly, know when you need to take a break, and don’t push beyond your limits. Going at your own pace will make the experience more enjoyable and repeatable on a weekly basis.
By taking care and being deliberate with how you approach your gardening, you can ensure that it’s a relaxing and leisurely hobby for you. Incorporating these practical strategies into your routine can make a difference in your comfort and experience, so you can enjoy gardening to the fullest extent. Happy gardening!