Gardening with limited mobility: 6 expert tips to make it stress-free

Gardening expert Mark Lane shares his advice on how to make gardening easy when you have limited mobility.

Gardens and gardening create a sense of safety, security, and have a positive impact on your mental, spiritual, and physical well-being. No matter what your level of ability, you can still go outside and engage in gardening.

Whether you use a wheelchair, a mobility scooter, a walking frame, a cane, or other aid – or if you were born with conditions that make you think you cannot garden – take a moment to reconsider.

I personally made this decision 23 years ago after a car accident, and with these simple tips, you can also get outside to appreciate nature’s beauty, feel the warmth of the sun or the refreshing rain on your face, have some time for personal reflection, or else socialise with your loved ones.

Lady in wheelchair watering tomato plants -Credit: Shutterstock/Halfpoint

1.  Pace yourself

Find your own pace

I always had problems with overdoing tasks. Pacing your activities is essential, especially if you tire quickly. A horticultural therapist told me early on to invest in a cheap egg timer, and it’s a technique I still use now, albeit with the timer on my mobile phone.

How to pace yourself in the garden

  • Set the timer to five minutes.
  • Try working for this period. If you find it is too long, reduce the time. If more than five minutes are needed, think about the task ahead.
  • It is better to do things in shorter periods with gaps in between than working solidly for 30 minutes, after which you will probably be exhausted.
  • Pacing will, over time, result in more work being done because you allow time for rest. Once you find your baseline, you can then work around it every day of the week.

2.  Find the right tool for the task

Have you got the right equipment?

Tools are very personal. Long-handled tools are great for people in wheelchairs and for people who cannot bend or kneel easily, but when buying, try them out. The ones with interchangeable heads, although more expensive, are a good idea.

Tools can be heavy, especially over a period of time. There are some good lightweight aluminium and plastic tools on the market. Be mindful that some lighter tools are not so robust and may need changing in a year or so. Also, consider looking at children’s tools as they are lighter, strong and normally come in a great range of colours.

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If you have difficulties with dexterity, consider ergonomic tools, from moulded handles that sit comfortably in your hand to rotating handles (such as secateurs), and curved handles for ease of use.

If you’re looking after the pennies, fix an existing trowel or fork to a length of pole at your desired length with cable ties.

3.  Build or buy raised garden beds

Go to higher ground

For some people, raised beds are great. The plants are lifted to a manageable height, and you can even sit on the side of the garden beds while gardening. For some people, whether in a wheelchair or not, twisting the torso is not possible.

Consider also the use of raised tables. You can position your wheelchair or mobility scooter underneath or place a chair ready to sit and enjoy sowing, planting and harvesting. Raised tables do not have much depth, but you can still grow lots of salad crops and alpine plants.

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4.   Think vertical plants

Forget ground planting

If you have difficulty bending or can only reach a certain height, consider growing up a wall. There are some excellent vertical planting systems on the market. Ensure they are fitted securely to a wall or fence and have a drip irrigation system.

A cheaper alternative, which will need replacing every year, is to use a hanging show organiser. Fill each pocket with soil and your chosen plants. Over time the pockets will disappear behind the flowers and foliage. Keep well-watered and fed for a glorious display.

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5.  Ditch the ground beds for pots

Go potty!

Think about using pots to grow your plants in – they can be used for the smallest alpines to large trees. Pots do need ongoing maintenance in the form of watering and feeding though, but with water timers and a drip irrigation system, you do not need to worry about your garden maintenance.

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If arranging pots together, turn a couple of empty pots upside down and set your planted one on top. Place other planted pots around the base, water and feed; over time, the upturned pots will disappear. You can create a whole garden with a combination of pots.

Half-fill your pots with polystyrene and then top up with soil. This will keep the weight of the pot down so that it can be positioned wherever desired.

6.  Find the perfect pathway

Think about how you’re going to get around

When visiting potential clients to design a garden for someone with a disability, I am always asked what the best material is to use underfoot. Tarmac is relatively cheap to lay and now comes in many colours. Self-binding gravel is a pricier option.

If you’re creating a new pathway, it’s important to have a level, firm, stable base and then a top material that:

  • does not give off too much glare
  • gives just the right amount of resistance whether on foot or using a wheelchair
  • is flat
  • where possible, has a raised edge so that it stops wheels (or for more ambulant individuals, makes you aware of the edge of the path)
Mark Lane

Written by Mark Lane he/him

Published:

Mark Lane is a multitalented gardening expert and author, who is widely known for presenting BBC Morning Live and BBC Gardener’s World. His career took an unexpected turn in 2001 – after a car accident and lengthy rehabilitation, Mark who has always loved gardening, set up his own garden design business.

The rest is history, with lots of passion and determination, Mark has earned many awards, including the ‘first garden designer in a wheelchair’ and he’s the first disabled presenter in the UK to join the famed BBC Gardeners’ World team. Mark Lane has also been Stannah’s gardening expert since 2020.

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