Ohio AgrAbility in Action: Universal Design in the Garden

Laura Akgerman – Disability Services Coordinator for Ohio AgrAbility

Everyone wants a garden to be welcoming, beautiful, and safe. As we age, some tasks become more difficult, and more of a chore than an enjoyable activity. If you enjoy gardening but are finding it is harder to do as you get older, or have more demands on your time, consider integrating Universal Design solutions into your garden. Universal Design is the creation of products and environments meant to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without need for adaptation or specialization. Universal Design can enhance the safety, comfort and usability of your garden by eliminating barriers, creating well defined paths and garden beds, and including seating, built in storage, raised beds, vertical and container gardens, lighting, and integrated irrigation.

Garden gates help to define the space, and keep larger animals out of the garden, but can also limit your access. If you have a threshold consider eliminating it or creating a ramped threshold – this will make it easier to bring in carts, wagons, or mobility devices, and will eliminate a trip and fall hazard for you and your guests.

Paths should be smooth, wide enough for a mobility device (at least 30”), and clear of equipment, hoses, or plants. Paths should be a contrasting color from garden beds, this makes it easier to navigate the paths, and not walk into the garden beds by accident. Garden beds that are higher than the path can also help to define the path from the bed, and the higher bed may make it easier to tend your plants.

If you have trouble stooping, kneeling or bending, raise the garden to a comfortable working height: a raised garden bed, terraced bed, or tabletop container garden can provide seating, trellises and arbors provide shade for you, and vertical space to grow plants.

Storage benches provide seating and storage in the garden, limiting the need to carry all of your tools and supplies back and forth from home to garden. Benches provide a comfortable place to sit and rest while you are gardening, and a nice spot to relax when the work is done.

Including lights in your garden design allows you to work when natural light is low, increases visibility and safety, and adds a nice design element. Solar yard lights or outdoor light strings are subtle lighting solutions that are easy to use and can be integrated into any garden.

Irrigation systems are an ideal way to water your garden, but if that is not within your budget, soaker hoses can be laid out at the beginning of the season and left in the garden beds. If you need to bring a hose into the garden, a collapsible bungee hose is lightweight, may be easier to use that a heavy rubber hose, and take up minimal storage space.

Universal design solutions can be added to your garden over months or years and can be upgraded to suit your needs and lifestyle. Ohio AgrAbility Fact sheets about Universal Design, gardening with a physical limitation, farming with chronic back pain, and farming with a disability can be found at https://agrability.osu.edu/resources/factsheets

For more information, please contact Laura Akgerman, Ohio AgrAbility and OSU Extension Disability Services Coordinator, at Akgerman.4@osu.edu, or 614-292-0622.