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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Gardening from a Wheelchair

By: Janelle LoBello

Flower BudBeing able to plant your favorite flowers, pick fresh herbs for a delicious dinner, or simply be delighted in the great outdoors are all possible when gardening from a wheelchair.

User-friendly garden
Understanding your abilities, personal boundaries, and physical structure of your garden, will make for a more enjoyable gardening experience. "Know how far your reach limits are," says Gene Rothert, Manager of Horticultural Therapy Services of the Buehler Enabling Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden. "You don't want issues present that would impair your function in the garden. Match your garden's design to your special needs." Trying to push beyond your limits can decrease productivity, progress, and enjoyment.

Gardeners at the Buehler Enabling Garden.

Gardeners at the
Buehler Enabling Garden.

"Create your garden on your deck or patio even," says Rothert, living with paralysis since 1977. "Use the least amount of energy possible getting there, save it for the garden."

Avid gardener, Francesco Clark, President of Clark's Botanicals in New York City and Ambassador for the Reeve Foundation, stresses the importance of accessibility. "The walkways are either too narrow or an uneven surface, like brick, physically blocking my wheels from getting where I want to go," says Clark, living with a spinal cord injury after a swimming pool diving accident in 2002. "There is never enough room to turn around or back-up."

An example of a vertical wall garden at the Buehler Enabling Garden.

An example of a vertical wall garden at the
Buehler Enabling Garden.

Having freedom of movement in your garden and leaving plenty of room and space to move around is also important. A paved area provides traction. Have a firm ground made of concrete or pavers, for example, in order to make rolling around more comfortable.

Ideal options for gardeners sitting down are vertical wall gardens or tabletop gardens, as are having large pots or containers on caddies for easy movement and placement. If you're using a pot, Rothert advises it be at least 24 inches across to prevent soil from drying out.

Raised beds and hanging baskets
Raised beds are highly recommended for anyone gardening from a wheelchair. They should also be narrow to provide convenient access to the whole garden.

A raised garden bed at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

A raised garden bed at the
Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

"A raised bed at the proper height is great," says Shane Smith of Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Wyoming. "It allows for approaching the bed straight on without having to bend."

 Carry on Gardening suggests tips on raised beds and how to build a raised bed. Some of the tips include, where in your garden you should place your bed, what plants grow best in a raised bed, what materials to use when constructing, and the height and width measurements of the bed.
 
Hanging baskets are also practical for gardening from a wheelchair. By having a pulley attached to the basket, gardeners can raise or lower the basket minimizing the amount of reaching. A hanging basket on a pulley also leaves display options at different height levels.

Tools and reaching aids
Generally, long-handled tools work best for limited hand and arm movement. Make them easier to use by adding an effortless grip to the handle. "Something as simple as wrapping foam and duct tape around the handle can make it easier to hold," says Smith. "Attaching Velcro straps around your arm can add stability too."

Having added support for your arms and hands puts more work into your tools and less on your body. Gene Rothert believes, "The most important component of all tools is hand function." He suggests leaving your hands close to your body, as opposed to extending your arms out. Using long-handled tools allows for that option.

Making a garden "individualized," helps to meet your specific needs. "The more you adapt to your garden," says Rothert, "the less tools are needed." Another way to make your garden best-suited for your needs is to use softer, light-weight soil. It eases the amount of strength needed to dig and plant.

Katrina Nicke of Walte Nicke's GardenTalk, suggests specialized tools for gardeners in wheelchairs. The Trigger-Release Lance and Water & Mist Lance are suitable for watering plants wherever they are placed. They attach to the end of your hose and reach beyond average distances of a hose. The on/off switch is controlled with a thumb-lever shut-off valve that can easily be pushed even with limited finger and hand mobility. A self-coiling hose is also useful and hassle-free.

Trigger-Release Lance

Trigger-Release Lance

Francesco Clark recommends even ditching the hose altogether if it's too difficult to use. "Sprinklers are the easiest, but are expensive," explains Clark. "Make sure the controls are reaching distance and easy-to-push buttons.

The E-Z Reacher and Easy Gripper are used to pick up items out of reach. According to Walt Nicke's GardenTalk, the E-Z Reacher is durable and can pick up anything from as small as a dime to as heavy as a five-pound brick.


The E-Z Reacher

The E-Z Reacher


The Cut and Hold Flower Gatherer

The Cut and Hold Flower Gatherer

The Cut and Hold Flowerer Gatherer is particularly useful for gardeners in wheelchairs. It can cut and grip a flower stem making it easy to bring it back or place it elsewhere.

The Easi-Grip Cultivator, Fork, and Trowel.

The Easi-Grip Cultivator, Fork,
and Trowel.

PETA gardening tools (a U.K. company, not associated with the animal rights activists), are designed specifically for those whom are physically disabled. Their line of Easi-Grip gardening tools are "specifically designed to relieve stress on the hand and wrist, with the option of using the strength of the forearm," says Genny Crocket, Managing Editor of PETA. The handles extend upright at a 90 degree angle so your hand is at a natural angle, preventing any extra strain.

Keeping a few tools in various areas of the garden can save time and energy. Make your overall garden experience better by using levers (instead of round handles) on gate latches, doors, and faucets.

Gardening as therapy
For Gene Rothert gardening is a form of stress management. Even after being at the Chicago Botanic Garden, working in a garden all day, he goes home and works in his own garden to relax. "There is calmness about it," says Rothert. "Why do people value gardens? It is intuitively healthy."

"It's supposed to be enjoyable, relaxing, an escape," explains Francesco Clark. All of your hard work is time well-wasted. Take the time to relish in the beauty of your garden and what you have created.

Learn more
Download a PDF with more information about gardening from your wheelchair from the Paralysis Resource Center.


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American Horticultural Therapy AssociationHorticultural therapy (HT) is not only an emerging profession, it is a time-proven practice. The therapeutic benefits of peaceful garden environments have been understood since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and considered to be the "Father of American Psychiatry," reported that garden settings held curative effects for people with mental illness.

Dowling Community Garden: Building Accessible Raised-Bed GardensFunding for the wheelchair accessible beds was provided by the Longfellow Community Council Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). NRP funds paid for the materials and all labor was provided by Dowling gardeners. If you are a wheelchair gardener or know a wheelchair gardener who would be interested in gardening at Dowling, please call the Dowling Community Garden voice mail at (651) 255-6607.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Gardening for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Hunting for People with Disabilities (PDF)

Challenged AmericaThe Challenged America program is dedicated to introduce sailing as a therapeutic and rehabilitative enhancing activity to individuals with disabilities, their loved ones, and professionals in healthcare and rehabilitation.

eHow: How to Make a Wheelchair/Scooter Accessible Raised Garden BedHow to build an accessible raised bed garden from inexpensive, easily obtained materials. This is a thoughtful, enriching and enabling gift for the elderly, disabled and arthritic individuals.

E Nasco: CelluGro™ Wheelchair Accessible Green Thumb Therapy GardenDesigned by a horticultural therapist, this makes it possible for anyone who may not be able to do traditional gardening to be active gardeners.

Flaghouse: Gardening ProductsTo enhance the quality of life for all people, with resources for physical activity, recreation, therapy, and the development and support of life skills.

Friends Hospital: Adaptive Gardening to Meet Your Changing NeedsGardening is one of our most popular national pastimes. Horticulture can be enjoyed by almost everyone, whether young or old, weak or strong, able-bodied or handicapped. Gardening can be a vigorous activity or a sedentary one. As you grow older or your physical abilities change, there is no need for you to stop gardening. Gardens and tools may be modified to help ease stress and strain and allow you to continue to participate in one of the best leisure activities.

Gardener's Supply Co.Disability Opens New Doors for a Lifelong Gardener .

Infinitec: Enabling Gardens This section demonstrates accessible ways to garden, but please consult general gardening resources for help with soil preparation, planting, fertilizing, mulching, pruning, etc.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

The information provided in the Paralysis Resource Center was supported by Cooperative Agreement number 1U59DD000838-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the Reeve Foundation and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.