Preparing an accessible garden – Ohio Ag Net
By Laura Akgerman, Disability Services Coordinator for Ohio AgrAbility
Everyone wants a welcoming, beautiful and safe garden. If we add accessible to the list, there is a better possibility that the garden will meet the needs of the gardener, regardless of age or ability level. Several key areas can be incorporated into a garden to make it accessible.
Raised beds or containers
If it’s difficult to bend or kneel down and reach plants in the ground, consider a raised bed, container garden, or hanging garden. If you don’t have the option of a raised bed or vegetable garden this year, consider getting a chair or bench in the garden so you can sit down instead of kneeling or bending down. When you’re done working, you can sit on the bench and enjoy your garden.
If you like the idea of a container garden but don’t want to buy containers, look around your home and garden and see what items can be repurposed as containers. Old toolboxes, kitchen strainers, wicker baskets, hats, purses – just about anything could be a container garden. Once you have the container, you can put it on a bench, chair, step, ledge, anything stable and elevated enough to allow you to reach it without kneeling or bending down. Be careful not to put the plants too high because reaching heights can be painful and you don’t want to risk something falling on you if you have trouble reaching it.
Tools with ergonomic handles or grips allow you to keep your wrist and hand in a neutral position and are available with long handles or short handles. Cushioned handles make tools more comfortable to hold, and a thicker handle doesn’t require as tight a grip as a hard plastic or wooden handle.
Handles can be thick and strong, or they can have contoured finger surfaces. Choose tools that feel good in your hand and fit comfortably in your grip. You can also purchase a wrap for the handles of your current tools.
Cutting and pruning tools that require minimal force save your hands and wrists and are available in a variety of handle lengths and grips. Long-handled pruners allow you to cut and prune without squatting or stooping, and minimize shock when cutting. Short-handled pruners with a spring-loaded design gently open the blades after each cut to reduce hand fatigue.
To make watering your garden easier, look for alternatives to heavy rubber hoses. Collapsible pipes are lightweight and easy to carry and are compact and easy to store. For watering hanging plants, a watering wand is an easy way to water tall or hard to reach plants with minimal effort or strain on your back and shoulders. A nozzle that locks to start or stop water flow lets you water without squeezing the spray nozzle, saving your hands from fatigue.
Before you start working in the garden, warm up and stretch – gardening is not only hard work, it is also good exercise. While you garden, remember to take breaks to rest, relax and enjoy your garden.
Think about what you can do without causing yourself more pain and identify difficult or painful tasks to complete. If a task is tedious, try modifying it by using different tools, or change where you plant your garden by using raised beds, vertical surfaces or containers. Ask for help with tasks you can’t modify or do yourself. Try changing your work practices to eliminate difficult tasks, or do them infrequently.
When planning to work in the garden, prioritize your tasks. Do the hardest or most arduous work first, then do the easier tasks. If you’re not sure how long you’ll be able to work, start with what’s most important, then move on to lower priority tasks. Working beyond the point of exhaustion will only make your pain worse and you could hurt yourself. it is better to take a few days to work safely and without pain than to push yourself too hard and make your pain worse.
Be aware of the effects the sun can have on your energy levels and your health. Always wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a sun hat (even on overcast days). Long sleeves and long pants are also a good idea to limit sun exposure and protect against insects, scratches and plants that can irritate the skin. Try to work in the garden early and late in the day, to avoid the midday heat.
Medications can affect your sensitivity to the sun and heat, and you could easily become dehydrated or sunburned. Stay hydrated by drinking water, especially when working outdoors in the heat and humidity.
If you would like more information about gardening or farming with a limitation or disability, Ohio AgrAbility has many resources for farmers and gardeners – videos, handouts, and suggested tools and equipment at https:/ /agrability.osu.edu/resources/webinars-and-documents-2020-2022
Laura Akgerman, Ohio AgrAbility and OSU Extension Disability Services Coordinator, can be reached at [email protected]or 614-292-0622. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.