May Flowers and Accessible Gardening

Joe Zesski May 26, 2021

As summer approaches, many people look forward to the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and one of the best ways to do so is by gardening. Whether planting in our own front yard, tending vegetables in a community garden, or simply appreciating a public garden, many people enjoy nature by digging into the soil and growing plants. When it comes to making these spaces accessible to those with various types of disabilities, there is no hard and fast guidance to follow. In your own garden, you can adapt the space and environment as best suits your needs. I would like to share some ideas, though, on what can make a more public space, such as a town or community garden, accessible to more people.

First, let’s consider the path through the garden area itself. A general rule is that an accessible path of travel is at least 36 inches wide, but typically this is for indoor paths or developed areas. When we are discussing an outdoor environment where we are likely to have pedestrian traffic, a larger width for the path of travel would be useful. A target of a minimum 60 inches of usable width would provide more room. This number is based on the space needed for a wheelchair turning space within the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design are a good starting point if you are looking for minimum design requirements re: access within a garden area and to specific features common to these areas.

Next, the variety of possible garden platforms should be considered. There are different options that can make planting, pruning, and tending the earth more accessible. Container gardens, accessible raised beds, and vertical gardens all can serve to make a garden more reachable and usable for those using mobility aids or for those with other physical needs. If a raised table bed is provided, ensuring that there is at least 27 inches of clearance underneath the table will help individuals who use mobility devices, or those that prefer to garden while seated, have space to accommodate their knees below the raised table. Ideally, the height of the raised table is no higher than 34 inches above the ground. This will help facilitate an easier reach to plants. Careful consideration of the types of plants provided, the depth and width of the raised beds, and the reach ranges to access plants will help ensure increased usability of raised planting beds.

Gardening is an activity that should be available to all whether at home or in a public space. Thoughtful design, gathering input from individuals with disabilities, and attention to best practice can help make the most accessible garden space. For some further ideas on accessible gardening, you can check out this infographic from the Northeast ADA.

Also, Grass Roots Gardens of Buffalo has a useful guide that may be of interest if you are looking for design ideas to increase accessibility in gardens.