People with disabilities are one of the groups at high risk for life-threatening complications from the Coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, we will be spending the vast majority of our time in our houses, yards and patios or balconies for the foreseeable future. Spring has arrived, and in many places, it feels great outside. We can all start spending time out in the sunshine. If quarantine life is starting to get you down, fresh air is the perfect solution. Get out of bed or off the sofa and give Netflix a rest. It's time to plant beautiful things outside. Sunshine increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. It’s a natural antidepressant and right now we can all use that. Getting out in the sunshine can also help you sleep at night by increasing the amount of melatonin your body can produce after dark. Here
is a great article on healthline.com that goes into more detail about the benefits of sunlight. Now let’s get to the tips for ways people with disabilities can enjoy gardening.
Why should you think about gardening?
We have established that being outside is good for your brain. Besides, it's a fun way to get some exercise. If you have upper body strength and movement gardening can be quite a workout. It has only been in the last 5 years that I have started to enjoy weeding and planting flowers. Now that my kids are more independent I can find pleasure in nurturing life in the garden. When I spend a few hours in my yard working and making things more beautiful, I’m exhausted and I feel a sense of accomplishment. My wheelchair prevents me from getting around to all areas in the yard but I’m good at giving other people directions. Just ask my kids how bossy I can be! Gardening is an activity that can be done with family and that makes it even more fun.
Spending time in the garden is calming and relaxing. There was a study
done in the Netherlands in 2011 that showed spending time in the garden can reduce stress and improve mood. In this study they first had all of the subjects participate in a stressful activity for 30 minutes then one group read for 30 minutes and the other group spent time gardening for 30 minutes. The group that spent time gardening had a significantly greater reduction in indicators of stress and improved mood. I love to look back at the results of the time and energy I spend on my patio. Even if you have not enjoyed gardening in the past, give it a try! You may be very surprised at how rewarding spending time with nature can be.
Getting Back to Nature
Humans were meant to be close to nature. Spending time outside helps people keep their focus at the moment. When you are in the garden most of your focus is on enjoying the sights, sounds, smell and feeling of nature. When I am worried about work or family it's nice to get away from my thoughts and focus on the flower or the plant I am caring for. Recently I was riddled with worry and I went on the patio to let the dogs out and noticed a single bloom on my rose bush. That rose helped me focus on all that I have to be thankful for. It's the small things in life that can bring great joy. There is a lot in our yards and neighborhoods that inspire awe and wonder. I love flowers, but planting fruit and vegetables is healthy and rewarding. If you are careful with pesticides there is nothing better for you than homegrown food. Getting to your local gardening store might be difficult, but plants and seeds can be ordered online and delivered right to your front door. There are many companies to choose from like Gardener's Supply Company
. On these gardening websites, you can find all of the supplies you will need to start with your new outdoor hobby.
Tips on Making your Garden More Accessible
Rolling through the grass and in gardens is difficult for wheelchair users. There many things that can be done to bring the garden closer to the disabled gardener. There is a great article
written by the Mobility Project (Mobility Management Magazine) that gives many ideas about how to create an accessible garden. I have used many of these ideas in my garden over the years.
Jenny Border’s ideas for Gardening with Limited Hand Function
- Create a wide pathway and make them out of solid materials, cement being ideal. Many of you are aware rock paths are terrible for wheelchairs. I plan to have a flagstone pathway created that circles around my yard. There are many options for materials to create a pathway that can be affordable. There are wooden pathways, flagstone, cement or a combination of these materials that can be beautiful in the yard and make it more wheelchair friendly. You can see many options that could work for you on Pinterest.
- A raised flowerbed is the way to go if you use a wheelchair and you want to participate in gardening. You can have someone build raised beds out of wood or they can be purchased. Click here to see a great example of a raised bed made from cedar. I have chosen to use pots that are tall enough that I can reach to plant, weed, fertilize and water the foliage.
- Vertical gardens are very popular right now. If you live in an apartment a vertical garden is a great option. You can find easy how-to instructions on the internet or kits can be purchased. A vertical garden can be hung on a patio wall or inside which would be easily accessible to a wheelchair user. Country Living magazine has a great article on ideas for creating a manageable vertical garden in your small space.
Jenny Border is a dear friend of mine and Numotion customer and she shared her gardening tips with me. Jenny was born with arthrogryposis
, which in Greek means "curved or hooked joints". Jenny has shorter than average arms and limited hand strength. Growing up in rural Michigan, Jenny lived on a lot of lands with a huge garden. The whole family helped with the garden, including Jenny. Years ago Permobil made a pediatric power wheelchair called a Playman. The Playman
wheelchair could be lowered to the ground and it made it easier for Jenny to help with the gardening. Jenny recommends finding gardening tools that can be used by wrapping, intertwining or hooking them on your hands or arms. This means these tools must be lightweight and many gardening tools have grips and adaptive handles. Living Well Health has a great article
on many adaptive gardening tools for people with disabilities. Jenny also told me a story about how she pulled old tractor tires with her power wheelchair and stacked them to create a raised flowerbed for her friend. Nothing stops Jenny from achieving her goals with a combination of creativity and determination.
I have to admit that I never thought that I would be interested in gardening. Over the last several years I have grown to love both the process and the result of growing plants. It does take time, diligence and patience to be successful but it's rewarding. There are many benefits to spending time outside both physical and psychological. Gardening is a physical workout and can be done with family or alone. There is something special about making the environment where you live beautifully. Many different types of gardens can be made accessible for someone that uses a wheelchair. There are also adaptive gardening tools and hose attachments that can make things easier for people with limited hand dexterity. Many of us are trying to live a healthier lifestyle and growing vegetables or herbs would be a great start. Gardening is a hobby that can last a lifetime, so give it a try. Now go out in the sunshine and live your best life possible!