Some ideas to consider for creating gardens or recreation spaces that are welcoming, inclusive and accessible to people of all abilities -

Wide pathways make it easier for everyone to move through the garden. Make pathways 5 feet wide, if possible, to allow for ease of turning when using a wheelchair or pushing a stroller. At the Accessible Garden at Brookfield Farm, compacted pea gravel was used to create even-surfaced accessible pathways that have lasted well for several years so far.

    At our accessible garden, we've used easy, ready-to-assemble raised bed kits from a wonderful local family-owned resource, The Farmstead (order online). You can use an old barrel, a pot in a plant stand, or any container of suitable height to create a raised planting area.

    In an accessible garden, a variety of raised bed heights allow for various accessibility needs (or adapt the height of a raised bed to suit your particular needs).

    Low beds are perfect for little ones.
    24-30 inches high suit seated gardeners

    Taller beds (30-36 inches high) suit a standing gardener (perhaps someone who uses a walker or someone who cannot bend easily).

    Trellises, espaliers, vertical wall gardens, a hanging basket, or a few sticks and some rope, use vertical space in the accessible garden, allowing access to plants at all levels.
    Simple trellis at The Accessible Garden, Amherst, MA

    Trellis, a hanging basket and vertical wall gardens at Chicago Botanic Garden 

    A bench in the garden offers a place to sit and rest a while. Consider including accessible picnic tables, too.


    Consider planting large groupings of single-colored flowers in red or yellow to help create a visual border or orientation points to your garden. People with certain visual impairments can view bright red or yellow more easily.

    Aromatic herbs (lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, basil) and other fragrant plants help create a "sensory" garden, encouraging visitors to smell, touch, taste and explore.

    Introduce a variety of textures into the garden. Some plants that have tactile qualities are lamb's ears, ornamental grasses, some sedums. 
    Exploring a garden through touch

        The sound of rustling leaves, birds and water provide interest and relaxation, and also allow for auditory points of orientation within the garden.

        • Shade – Some people need to avoid the sun or avoid being in the sun for long periods of time for various medical reasons, and many people appreciate a shady spot to sit in on a hot day -- under a tree, or a vine-covered trellis, or a canopy.
        • Swings and/or rocking chairs – swinging or rocking can be a self-modulating activity for some, or relaxing for others.  
        • If possible, create a private, quiet space within the garden or separate from the garden that people can use if they need a space to regroup or to have a break from all the sensory input of the outdoor environment.
        • While in the garden, some people may need ear-protection (earplugs or ear-muffs), some may need eye-protection (sunglasses), and some may need to wear gloves. 

        *Photographs in this post were taken at the Accessible Garden at Brookfield Farm and at other accessible gardens and accessible recreation spaces that I've visited around the country.