Alternative gardens go a long way toward providing accessibility for people

Experimental pallet garden with containers on painted pallets – Photo WVC P1120001

Alternative gardens can help make growing more accessible

By Natalie Feulner, BDN Staff

Straw bales. Pallets. Raised beds. When it comes to creating an alternative garden — ones grown above ground — options abound.

Some save money while others allow gardeners to accommodate different mobility needs or improve the health of the soil.

Regardless, more people are gardening these days than ever before, and experts say alternative gardens go a long way toward providing accessibility for people who may not want to or can’t have a traditional garden in the ground.

Experimental pallet garden - Different species in a barrel, a bucket and a pot - Photo WVC P1120095
Experimental pallet garden – Different species in a barrel, a bucket and a pot, with a drainage hole in the sidewall – Photo WVC P1120095

Creating accessibility

Ellen Gibson is an avid gardener and AgrAbility specialist with Maine AgrAbility, a nonprofit collaboration of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Goodwill Industries Northern New England and Alpha One. The organization works to help farmers, farm workers, fishermen and others who have chronic health issues or disabilities.

For her, “accessibility,” with respect to growing food and flowers, means designing gardens as places for everyone, regardless of ability. It may mean creating spaces designed to accommodate people who can’t walk, are blind or are cognitively impaired.

They may have wider walkways, raised beds or feature flowers and plants with different textures and fragrances to increase the enjoyability for someone with a visual impairment. Features such as circular paths or fenced-in areas also can help people with memory loss or dementia.

“I think of it similarly to the concepts of universal design in architecture, designing gardens for everyone, regardless of age or ability,” Gibson said.

Leilani Carlson, a project coordinator with MaineAgrAbility, added alternative gardens are great for able-bodied people, as well, and can go a long way to making use of different growing spaces.

“Alternative garden designs [are] really a nice concept to consider for all ages, lifestyles and garden settings, for example, [in] schools, suburban or city settings, apartment living or retirement complexes,” she said.

Types and purposes


Container gardens: According to Carlson, container gardening provides an alternative to raised beds and is great for growing food, herbs or flowers. Because container gardens are mobile, she said they provide some flexibility for gardeners who can move them if the weather turns inclement. Types of container gardens include window boxes; hanging baskets; repurposed containers, such as washing machine tubs or horse troughs; and planting directly in bags of soil.

Smaller containers can also be kept high on a table for people who want to stand and garden or are in wheelchairs. Horticulturist Kate Garland said one thing to keep in mind, however, is that containers — especially shallow ones, such as window boxes or bags of soil — dry quickly and need daily watering.

Read the full article: BDN Homestead

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.