By Laura Akgerman, Disability Services Coordinator for Ohio AgrAbility
Everyone wants a garden to be welcoming, beautiful, and safe. If we add accessible to the list, there is a better possibility the garden meets the gardener’s needs no matter their age or ability level. Several key areas can be incorporated into a garden to make it accessible.
Raised beds or containers
If it is difficult to bend or kneel, and reach plants in the ground, consider a raised bed, a container garden, or a wall hanging garden. If you don’t have the option of a raised bed or container garden this year, think about taking a chair or bench into the garden so you can sit instead of kneeling or stooping. When you are 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 to serve as containers. Old toolboxes, kitchen colanders, 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 that is stable, and raised enough to allow you to access it without kneeling or stooping. Be careful not to put plants to high, as reaching overhead can be painful, and you don’t want the risk of something falling on you if you are struggling to reach it.
Tools with ergonomic grips or handles allow you to keep your wrist and hand in a neutral position and are available with long handles or short handles. Padded grips make tools more comfortable to hold, and a thicker handle doesn’t require as tight a grip as a hard plastic or wood handle.
Handles can be thick and solid, or they can have contoured surfaces for fingers. Choose tools that feel good in your hand and fit your grip comfortably. You can also purchase a wrap for the handles of your current tools.
Cutting and pruning tools which require minimal strength save your hands and wrists and are available in a variety of handle lengths and grips. Long handled pruners allow you to cut and trim without crouching or stooping, and minimize jarring impact when cutting. Short-handled pruners with spring-action design gently opens blades after each cut to reduce hand strain.
To make watering your garden easier look for alternatives to heavy rubber hoses. Collapsible hoses 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 high or hard-to-reach plants with minimal effort or strain on your back and shoulders. A nozzle that locks to start or stop the flow of water allows you to water without squeezing the spray nozzle, saving your hands from fatigue.
Before you begin working in the garden warm up and stretch — gardening is not just hard work, it’s also good exercise. While you are gardening remember to take breaks to rest, relax, and enjoy your garden.
Think about what you can do without causing yourself more pain, and identify what tasks are hard or painful to do. If a task is painful, try to modify it by using different tools, or change where you plant your garden using raised beds, vertical surfaces or containers. Ask for help for tasks that you cannot modify or do yourself. Try to change your work practices to eliminate difficult tasks, or only do them rarely.
When planning to work in the garden, prioritize your tasks. Do the hardest or most strenuous work first, then do the easier tasks. If you are not sure how long you’ll be able to work, begin with what is most important, then go to less high priority tasks. Working past the point of exhaustion is just going to make your pain worse, and you could hurt yourself; it’s better to take a few days to work safely and without pain than to push yourself too hard and make your pain worse.
Be mindful of the effects the sun can have on your energy level and 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 yourself from insects, scratches and plants that can irritate your skin. Try to work in the garden at the beginning and end of the day, to avoid the mid-day heat.
Medication may affect your sensitivity to the sun and heat, and you could become dehydrated or sunburnt easily. Stay hydrated by drinking water, especially when you are working outside 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 suggestions for tools and equipment at https://agrability.osu.edu/resources/webinars-and-handouts-2020-2022
Laura Akgerman, Ohio AgrAbility and OSU Extension Disability Services Coordinator, can be reached at Akgerman.firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.