Design & Decor - Landscaping

Plan an accessible garden

Don’t let a physical disability stand between you and your garden. Here are some tips to help you finesse the basics

Our paths are lined with hard-packed cedar mulch (not to be confused with chips or bark, which are loose and unstable). Ian has no trouble driving his chair along these paths.

Many people with disabilities find that raised beds or container gardens enable them to still get their hands dirty, minus the stooping or kneeling. But since containers dry out faster than flowerbeds, it’s helpful to place them where they can catch rain. And long-handled garden tools will extend your reach when it comes to pruning or weeding. These products often come equipped with easy-grip handles. When selecting tools, make sure they’re light enough to use easily and feel comfortable in your hand; tools with thicker shafts may be easier to hold.

For my friend Veronica Leonard in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, however, strength and flexibility are not a problem. Rather, her garden decisions are shaped by her partial vision. “I tend to go for bright colours and robust fragrances,” she says. “I’m not a subtle person, and I’m not into tiny flowers.” Veronica loves the vivid hues of petunias and the strong fragrance of scented geraniums. She plants these annuals in pots on her porch, close to the house and visible from indoors. She also lines her front steps with flower boxes—an attractive reminder that helps prevent her from tripping on the stairs. Some blind gardeners hang wind chimes to mark an area or use a variety of hedging to identify different borders. No matter what the disability, no matter what the task at hand, there is often a way to make it work.

Whether or not we have disabilities, we can all enjoy the peace and beauty a garden brings to us. As Veronica puts it: “No matter what’s been happening during the day, the garden is where I find serenity.”

Five great wheelchair-accessible gardens across Canada
By Stephen Westcott-Gratton

  • Opened in 1867, the Halifax Public Gardens is a rare example of an intact formal Victorian garden (note: a limited supply of wheelchairs is available at the Horticultural Hall).
  • One of the largest of its kind in the world, the Montreal Botanical Garden has plant collections from all four corners of the Earth. Most areas are wheelchair accessible.
  • Inspired by Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, Yo-Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy collaborated with landscape architects to create the Music Garden at Toronto’s Harbourfront.
  • The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences manages the 75 hectares of indoor and outdoor plant displays that make up the Devonian Botanic Garden, a portion of which is wheelchair accessible.
  • Government House in Victoria (the Lieutenant Governor’s residence) has almost six hectares of formal gardens, all wheelchair accessible.

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