Niki Preston is a garden writer and product tester who regularly discusses her disability and how it plays a part in her gardening activities on her blog, The Two Fingered Gardener. Here, Niki gives her opinion on accessibility in gardens, and the delusions around accessible raised beds.
As a disabled gardener I have written about accessible gardening many times, after all it’s what I do. However, I have become increasingly frustrated by the things that I read. The term accessible gets bandied about as a current buzz word but usually by writers who have no idea what it actually means to be truly accessible. Can you really make a garden entirely accessible? Yes, I believe you can, after all mine is. It has to change as my disability changes but with a bit of forward planning it certainly is do-able.
Accessible raised beds
Now here is the biggest bug bear for me. Just putting a small bit of decking in a square around an area of garden does not a raised bed make. (In terms of accessibility) Raising the garden by a few inches makes hide nor hair of a difference to a gardener who finds bending difficult, is a wheelchair user or like me, one who has many different issues that requires sometimes sitting to garden, sometimes standing and sometimes just needing to be outside for my general wellbeing.
Accessible raised beds should come in all shapes, sizes and heights to encompass us all. After all, find me a gardener who, at times doesn’t suffer with aches and pains, especially back pain. Making a garden with areas containing beds that require less bending, digging and manual heavy gardening is good for us all.
So many times I find myself shouting at “Make Over” programs where the lucky recipient is a wheelchair user and lovely raised beds are immediately installed as a brilliant answer to their needs. Never once consulting that gardener as to how and where they can garden.
Placing a solid bed that you can only sit sideways at isn’t the best way to garden. Twisting to reach the bed, leaning to reach plants at the back of beds that are far too wide is just frustrating. Consulting the actual person as to what would make their garden accessible rather than appeasing the big companies who just want to get their product on the TV would be much more beneficial.
Encouraging disabled people to get out in the garden and experience the many health benefits far outweighs a gorgeous raised bed that is not fit for purpose. If garden companies wish to call a product accessible then please make sure it really is. Consulting someone like myself who actually tests products and uses them all the time could make a huge difference to an ever-changing demographic in the gardening world.
People are living longer. The health benefits of gardening, not only physically but mentally, are finally being realised more widely and even being prescribed by doctors in some cases. Companies need to start recognising how gardening and the reasons people do it is changing.
When I go out in my garden I feel instantly uplifted. It is a place for me to forget my painful body and just be me. My garden does not judge me and think “she looks funny, with two fingers”. It just rewards my loving care and attention with vibrant colour, herbs, veg and fruit. It gives me a huge sense of pride in my achievements and a feeling of calm and peacefulness.
I have learnt to ignore weeds that I can’t control as much as I’d like. To sit and enjoy my garden as much as I work in it.
Sitting in every corner allows me to garden a bit then sit for a while, admire the smells, birds, bees, frogs, before gardening some more to the next seat. All my seating is different to allow for my needs. Sometimes I need an upright chair, sometimes one to put my feet up and of course a swing chair to relax with a drink at the end of a good day’s gardening.