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Wooden and concrete raised beds filled with herbs and plants
The design of your garden can create a huge difference to your enjoyment of it. Here we look at some ways to make it more accessible.
  • Time in the garden can be brilliant for health and wellbeing. Designing a garden that is easy to work in and enjoy will encourage you to get out there more often
  • Confidence you can still carry out activities you enjoy. They may just need a little adapting to make them easier
  • Gardening offers the opportunity for lifelong learning. An accessible garden will allow you to keep trying new things
  • A chance to develop a garden that containing plants and activities you most want to engage with
garden path hard stone
A wide garden leading path up to a house

We believe everyone can enjoy gardening, no matter your age or abilities.

It’s always a good idea to design a garden that you can easily move and work around. For some people, that requires extra thought so gardens are safe, useable spaces. This could mean allowing space for a wheelchair. Or, making it simpler to navigate if you have sight loss. For those with low energy or mobility difficulties, you may focus on designing a garden you can comfortably maintain.

Getting help with your garden

Do you need some help with your garden space or gardening jobs? Read our guide to getting help with your garden for advice.

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A paved area of garden with wooden raised beds full of plants
Wooden planters of varying heights

There are many aspects of garden design that can make your garden easier to use, from layout to plants.

General design

Think about your enjoyment of the garden:

  • Have plenty of seats so you can take breaks
  • Have sunny and shady areas. Shade is a must to enjoy the garden on a very hot day!
Bench shady spot garden
A bench in a shady spot in the garden

Think about how you can safely move around your garden:

  • Safe, stable paths are essential for wheelchair users or anyone who has difficulty with balance. They should allow easy access between the house, greenhouse, shed and other commonly used areas
  • Paths should be flat and even, with a non-slip surface. They should allow space for wheelchairs to travel and turning points. Find detailed advice in our guide to wheelchair friendly garden design
  • Manage changes in level in the garden by adding steps or a ramp. A ramp may be safer if you have any sight loss
  • Have a sturdy handrail alongside steps or a ramp. This should start at least a metre before the first step / start of the ramp
  • You could highlight the edge of paths and steps with white paint so they are easier to distinguish
  • The right carrying equipment can make it easier to move tools around. A lightweight wheelbarrow with two wheels or gardening trolley will help save energy
  • Position a light in the garden or above the entrance to the garden. This will help you safely see and move around on dull days or winter evenings
  • If you have any sight loss, place landmark items around the garden to help you know where you are. Trees, scented plants, seats, water features and wind chimes can all help you find your way

We changed most of our planting areas to raised beds, and installed two raised ponds, which we love. We also needed good pathways, ramps and patio areas as we can’t deal with large areas of grass.

Fred, gardener with dwarfism

Think about what you like to do in the garden:

  • A table is helpful if you like to do sow seeds outside. A recess in the table will make it easier to reach things
  • Stand pipes and water butts at points around the garden can make watering easier
  • If you will be using any electric tools or a mower, plan safe power sources. You should fit electrical equipment with a residual circuit breaker

Think about hazardous features:

  • Ponds are delightful but can also be dangerous and take work to maintain. Consider having a small, raised pond or water feature instead

Lawns

If you want to make your lawn easier to manage, you could reduce the size of it, or remove it completely. If you replace sections with gravel, you can still allow for planting areas within the gravel.

Where you do have a lawn area, opt for clean straight edges instead of curved borders to make mowing easier. Have a solid edge between lawn and borders, e.g. log rolls or concrete based to make it easier to keep edges neat.

Beds and borders

You should be able to reach across flower beds without overstretching or stepping on the soil. Aim for a maximum of 50cm wide if you can only reach it from one side, or up to 1m wide if you can reach it from all sides.

You could choose elevated planters, containers and raised beds instead. As the soil is higher off the ground, it reduces the need to bend, or allows you to work at them from a seated position. Read our guide to container gardening or gardening in raised beds for more advice.

Plants

A mass of bright yellow rudbeckia (coneflowers)
A mass of bright yellow rudbeckia (coneflowers)

It’s always good to grow things you like.

If it helps to make plant care less effort, choose lower maintenance plants:

  • Plants that like dry conditions need less time watering. Agapanthus, lavender, hardy geranium, geum, and grasses are all good choices
  • Ground cover plants in borders can reduce the need for weeding, e.g. geraniums and heuchera
  • Look for dwarf varieties of fruit tree. You can also find espalier or cordon trained varieties that grow to a low level, staying easier to reach
  • Some shrubs need little to no pruning, like rhododendrons, daphne and viburnum
  • Hedges can be difficult to manage. Consider lower maintenance alternatives, like climbing plants covering a wall or fence

If there are some activities you really enjoy, you could plan plant choices around that. For example, if you love watering, you could grow ferns as they enjoy a drink. Or, if you love deadheading, sweet peas or cosmos will keep you busy over summer.

I choose flowers that are bright, particularly white and yellow as I can see these easier – for example Rudbeckias and light leaved plants like variegated buddleia.

Jean, blind and deaf gardener

If you have any sight loss, there are ways to make your plants stand out. You could opt for bright colours, like yellow, that are easy to make out and plant in large groups. You could also paint fences dark and have light-coloured plants growing against them.

All gardens appeal to the senses in some way. You may decide to choose plants (and other features) that have high sensory appeal. Read our guide to planning a sensory garden for more ideas.

Top tip

If a plant is a problem, it’s better to remove it. This includes rapid growers, extremely big plants, thorny plants and potentially toxic ones.

Now you’ve had time to review your garden design and plants, you can get going in the garden!

It's always a good idea to take time to stop and look around. Appreciate your surroundings and think about the activities you have most enjoyed.

Top tip

Gardening is a journey, with no set finish line. If your garden or planting plans don’t work entirely, you can adjust them over time.

Help us continue to make gardening accessible for all. Make a donation to Thrive today. Thank you.

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