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Creating an Enabled Garden
Anna May Kinney

Sadly, many people have told me that they have been forced to give up the simple pleasure of backyard gardening. Gardeners for years, some can no longer bend, kneel or walk on their own, making a life long pleasure an impossible task.

Whether it's the progressive limitations of old age, arthritis, back injury, a disability caused by an accident or an aggressive health condition, there are ways that these people can keep enjoying this favorite pastime. Research has proven that these are the people who get the most health benefits from working in a garden.

Taking a person's health restrictions into consideration, gardens can be designed to enable even those who's activities are limited to a walker or wheelchair to enjoy the healing benefits of working in a garden, not to mention the added mental and emotional stimulation.

The first thing is to access your enabled gardener's skill level, motivation and preference. Say you are an older couple who have both gardened for years and suddenly one of you can no longer move around freely. The spouse who is limited wants to continue to garden, but does not need to do everything on his/her own. In this case, when changing an already existing garden would mean a major project, you could slowly start at one end of your garden making a little more of it accessible each year.

On the other hand, when creating a garden bed with an enabled gardener in mind, the entire space would be designed to accommodate a wheelchair or a walker. Remember, gardens appear small when there is nothing growing, once they are full of vegetables or flowers too much of a good thing can be overwhelming and discouraging.

When designing for a wheelchair or walker, you'll need pathways to be at least three feet wide, the ground surface will need to be smooth and garden beds will need to be high enough to reach into easily. Beds should be designed so that a person can reach the center without having to stretch.

While twelve inches is a sufficient depth for most planting boxes, I prefer them about two feet deep, which make them working area a foot higher. Remember wet soil is heavy, don't cut cost by using rotted or thin wood, construction needs to be sound, something that will last for years.

Keep your eyes open for tools that make gardening easier. Many garden centers, garden and specialty catalogs carry a line of specially adapted hand tools. Once you have tools, find a convenient tool storage place that is close to the garden. Hand tools can be adapted with strings so they can be hung from a wheelchair or walker.

Provide a convenient source of water and use drip irrigation or soaker hoses wherever watering would be a difficult task. Taking a little time to add mulch around plants will greatly reduce the amount of water needed, as well as time spent on weeding.

The following list is for those designing an enabled garden for those with Arthritis, fibromyalgia or other painful, restricting disorders please keep the following things in mind.

Raised beds or containers minimize bending and stooping.
Containers can be moved around for convenience.
Select plants carefully according to your enabled gardener's wants or needs.
Consider the plant's height, expected life span, and the amount of attention and special care it needs, including watering.
Make work areas accessible. Make gardening walkways three feet wide, with a non-slippery surface. Build handrails or handgrips where possible.
Use equipment that is easy on the body. Use foam pads when kneeling.
Purchase lightweight tools with large handles. Buy gloves that are large enough to insert foam padding to ease joint pain and foster better gripping. Mechanical "click" seeders and seed tape eliminate the need to grasp tiny seeds.
Use a sprinkler large enough that it will water the whole area and won't have to be moved around.

Here's a list of things that will help make gardening more joyful and less painful for the enabled gardener.

Tie a cord around the handles of small tools to make retrieval easier if they are dropped.
Use gloves to protect hands and help maintain your grip on tools.
A large magnifying glass helps to see small plants and seeds.
Wear an apron or smock with large front pockets to carry seed packets and tools.
Use a piece of lightweight plastic pipe to help you sow seeds without bending over.
Carry a whistle. A short blast can alert others if you need help.
Rig hanging planters with a pulley to lower them for watering.
Grow vine varieties of peas and beans that can be trained up a trellis to make harvesting easier.
Always pace yourself, taking many short breaks.

One of the most important things to remember is to furnish a close and shady rest area, a place that the enabled gardener can reach quickly, and as often as needed.
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