Tips for Accessible Garden Design
  • By Alick
  • In Inspiration
  • Posted Oct 09 2019

When it comes to a home’s interior, there are many popular and failsafe ways to ensure accessible design – from lowered countertops in the kitchen, to ‘wet room’ bathing spaces and easy-access storage. But when our attention turns to a home’s exterior, it can be difficult trying to establish the best designs to suit individual needs.

From wheelchair-friendly paving to weed-proofing a new decking area for someone visually impaired, there are numerous tips to try that are as simple as they are effective when it comes to accessible garden design. If you’re looking for inspiration for an upcoming renovation, here are some straightforward ways to keep the colour in outdoor spaces while still ensuring that they’re accessible and functional for all.

Pathways and Rest Areas

A crucial consideration in designing an accessible garden is the ease which the space offers you when it comes to getting around. Narrow pathways or stepped areas might look nice in pictures, but become obvious barriers for anyone navigating the garden in a wheelchair or with a walking frame.

Gravel pathways work well if executed properly, with a well-compacted base and shallow depth that doesn’t allow for too much movement – which can cause wheels to get stuck. However, smooth concrete pathways are the easiest solution for thoroughfare, provided care is taken to ensure that paths are wide enough for a wheelchair to turn on, or for someone to be accompanied on a leisurely stroll by a family member or carer.

Where any ground tilts to create a gentle ramp into a new part of the garden, look at the need for handrails on nearby walls or as freestanding elements. Equally, if you’re working on a wheelchair-accessible garden design for a large outdoor space that needs these features, it’s also worth planning rest spaces where a user can stop to relax after making their way around.

Consider space, seating and shade; opt for benches without armrests if the garden is for a wheelchair user who might wish to transfer from one seat to the other, and try to include seating of different heights if the garden will be used by both adults and children, as well as any people with mobility restrictions. Placing rest spaces near to leafy trees, or installing overhanging sun shades, will also ensure people can unwind in the garden without overheating in the summer months.

Raised Beds and Solid Edging

Raised flower beds and vegetable planters are increasingly popular in all kinds of gardens, allowing green-fingered individuals to continue their passion without needing to get down to ground level, either by bending or kneeling. There are now plenty of options available for raised beds which leave space underneath to fit a wheelchair, if needed.

As well as lifting plant life to within easy reach of a keen gardener, raised beds also share a useful feature with simple wooden edging: both create a clear boundary between pathways or lawn and the beds themselves, so that wheels and walking sticks don’t inadvertently enter.

Particularly if you’re designing for someone who has visual impairments, we recommend creating clear divides between walking areas and planted spaces. If the garden is going to be accessed by someone who uses a stick to feel where the path ends, the simple addition of wooden edging at the sides of each path can ensure they are able to move around with confidence.

Wildflowers and Fauxliage

Knowing what to plant can be as much of a challenge as plotting out pathways and furniture, and it’s important to think about the person who you’re designing the garden for. It might be tempting to do away with greenery in the most part, and create a more minimalist outdoor space with just a few potted trees – but most of us like our gardens with a little more colour, and there’s no reason you can’t create something that is both visually appealing and easy to maintain.

An top tip in many cases is to opt for a mixture of natural wildflowers and high-quality outdoor artificial plants, whether that be natural-looking hedgerows, planters and window boxes, or even tropical bamboo. If the garden will be enjoyed by a person or persons who won’t be able to tend to it regularly in order to keep things looking their best, this is a simple solution that offers plenty of colour without any hard work.

Using wooden or stone edging to pen in an area of wildflowers can ensure that a dedicated flowering space doesn’t get out of hand, while still allowing for natural plant growth that will attract bees and other wildlife throughout the year. Where it is impractical to have wildflowers, perhaps because their height could cause overhang to wheelchair-seated height, or because there is a risk that fallen leaves and petals might create a slip or skid hazard in winter months, sticking to artificial plants is an effortless choice.

Weed-Controlled Patios and Decking

Stone patios and Mediterranean-style wooden decking are great options for creating outdoor seating and barbecue areas, but they can be prone to developing hard-to-tackle weeds in cracks and crevices. To keep unwanted plant life to a minimum, make sure that any new patio or decking being planned in is built with a thick layer of weed control fabric underneath.

No solution is 100% perfect, but a good quality weed control membrane can last decades, making it a useful addition to patios, paving and driveways when you’re making updates. This is true for any garden where you’d rather minimise maintenance, but particularly in accessible garden design, for an individual or family where constant weed-battling won’t be feasible, this tip is an easy way to ensure that things stay looking their best for as long as possible without additional work.

Alternatives to the Classic Garden Pond

Last, but by no means least, lend a thought to water features. If you’re planning a garden renovation for someone who currently has a pond, or who would like to include a soothing water feature within the space, there are ways that water can be included without presenting a hazard.

Traditional garden ponds, whether at ground level or raised, can be high maintenance or simply dangerous when designing a garden to suit varying physical needs. Instead, consider bringing in other features such as small, raised fountains or bird baths, positioned so that they are at a suitable height for the garden’s main users.

While there is no one-size-fits-all method to creating a truly accessible garden design, the task is not as daunting as it may seem to somebody creating plans without personal experience of the obstacles and challenges that must be avoided. If in doubt, ask questions, and consider the difference you might notice if you were to traverse a garden at seated height or without a clear view. A little consideration goes a long way, and trying a few of these tips can ensure that the finished result is a garden that everyone can enjoy.

If you’re in need of more inspiration, why not browse our full range of UV stable artificial plants, designed to look great in your garden all year round?

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