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Design an Accessible Garden for All

Text source: Springs Preserve for the January/February 2013 issue of Horticulture

accessible garden

Located in Las Vegas, Springs Preserve is Nevada’s premier location for exploring the valley’s vibrant history and culture through botanical gardens, interactive science and nature exhibits, hiking trails, and live animal shows. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978, the Preserve is a 180-acre tract of land located about three miles west of the famed Las Vegas strip. It received Horticulture’s Award for Garden Excellence in 2012.

Spring Preserve’s Enabling Garden demonstrates how thoughtful garden design can make gardening accessible and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of physical ability. The Garden is a modified traditional Therapy Garden designed specifically for Springs Preserve as a learning and demonstration garden to provide options for people with physical challenges.

Although each type of disability—and each individual—may require personalized adaptations, here are some general suggestions to keep in mind.

• Raised beds place the plantings at a comfortable height so gardeners can work without bending, stooping or reaching.

• Wall garden frames built to allow vertical growth keep plants and vegetables in easy reach of gardeners.

• Shallow beds above the ground provide legroom for gardeners who need to sit while gardening. This can work well for gardeners in wheelchairs. Be sure to provide enough irrigation because shallow beds dry out quickly.

• Hanging baskets on a simple pulley can be adjusted to a gardener’s working height and then raised for display. Trellises also help bring the garden closer.

Pathway Design
• A firm, level surface provides good traction for walkers, wheelchairs and IV poles. Concrete is a good choice, but can be expensive; Asphalt absorbs and radiates heat which can be hot in the summer; and decomposed granite is good for people in wheelchairs, but not for those on crutches. A good surface option is rubberized paving materials—they’re firm enough for wheelchairs and also help to cushion falls.

• Avoid surface materials that produce glare. Light concrete can be especially troubling to older people. Use tinted concrete or rubberized paving, if possible.

• Strong changes in texture at the edges of a pathway help people with visual impairments detect the path’s boundaries; wind chimes placed at gates or entrances can also help signal boundaries.

Plants for the Senses
Use a variety of colors, scents, textures, sounds and tastes to stimulate the senses. In addition, providing seasonal interest helps people connect with the cycle of nature.

• Sight: Gardeners with some visual impairment can see plants with bright, contrasting colors and textures. Plantings at different heights encourage active looking. Visitors will see details as well as carpets of color.

• Smell: A fragrant planting can create a garden of scent. You can include plants such as mock orange, butterfly bush and honeysuckle that release their perfume in the evening. Too many scented plants, however, can drown one another out.

• Touch: Soft, felted or waxy leaves appeal to the sense of touch. Plants like lamb’s ear and spiky twisted myrtle can be planted in the same garden to create interesting textural contrasts. Some herbs, like pineapple sage and lemon verbena, release their scents when touched. Textured surfaces like a railing or brick corners on a path can guide visually impaired gardeners.

• Hearing: Choose plants that are easily jostled by the breeze. These include ornamental grasses and weeping trees, which make a rustling noise as they sway. Some seed pods also rattle in the wind or when shaken manually; try love-in-the-mist (Nigella damascena), an annual that’s quick to grow from seed. Consider positioning some of these plants closer than normal to a pathway or the edge of a sitting area, so that as people walk by, they brush the leaves or stems and cause noise.

• Taste: Select plants that provide both odor and flavor, such as rosemary, garlic, thyme, scallions, chives, onions and garlic.

Image credit: mtreasure / iStock / Getty Images