Getting Around in the Garden
What the gardeners use to move about will affect the garden's design and layout. As a general rule, anyone that uses assistive equipment such as canes, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs will require that the garden be set up on or abutting firm paving. Paving serves as a mobility aid and a platform for planters and other accessible garden features. Grass or wood chip paths are too soft. Anyone with a shuffling gait, compromised balance and coordination, or using a cane or walker will benefit from paving because of good traction and minimized tripping hazards.
Paved areas should be firm, level, drain well, offer good traction, and require little maintenance. All patios, decks, connecting paths, and walkways must meet these criteria. When determining slopes for paths and sidewalks, let the gardener's tolerance be the guide, but as a rule, slopes should not exceed 5% and grades across paths should not be more than 2%. Patios and decks should be essentially flat while allowing water to drain away. Shared spaces such as patios and decks that serve other functions besides gardening should be large enough for planters and other furniture/functions, yet allow freedom of movement for all who may use the space.
As a start, one can rely on the ADA sections pertaining to grades, widths, and material options, etc. Paving installation is expensive. It is best to first use the existing patios, balconies, and walks before investing in new ones - particularly if gardening is a new activity. To minimize the length of walkways and paving costs as well as energy spent traveling to and from the garden, locate the frequently tended vegetable and cut flower gardens nearest the house.
If made with permanent materials (concrete), connecting walkways must meet local building codes for width, etc. For wheelchair/scooter users, a minimum of 40 inches wide is necessary. By adding interspersed wider places, one can provide for a typical 5-foot turning radius. Someone fully ambulatory will require considerably less.
Paving materials vary in quality and cost. Grass is the most common paving in a garden, but it is too soft for wheelchair/scooter users and may hide tripping hazards. It is also high-maintenance. Commonly used wood chips are also too soft for those using wheelchairs or walkers or those who walk with a shuffling gait. While wood chips do cushion falls, they must be renewed with decay and soon result in very fertile places for weeds to grow. Packed soil will work in drier areas of the country but has clear disadvantages in places with more moisture. Better alternatives include:
Compacted crushed stone or gravel when properly installed is firm, level, well-drained, and is among the less expensive options. It tends to loosen with freeze/thaw action that may require spring compacting; it may track around when wet. Stone mixes should contain a blend of sizes ranging from 5/8-inch (angular, not smooth and round) with everything smaller down to coarse sand ('fines') left in to fill gaps between larger pieces as it is compacted. A mix called 'screenings' is a good, inexpensive choice where available.
Compacted crushed stone paving used to make a path 6 feet wide at a park.
|Large 2 foot square textured and colored (to reduce glare) concrete pavers used in a large rooftop garden with 24inch high raised beds.|
|Wood deck at home large enough for planters and freedom of movement.|
|Brick can be installed in a variety of patterns and colors.|
Gardener using a wheelchair watering a group of three large round white plant containers approx. 18, 20 and 24 inches high with a long handled watering wand. A standing woman is tending the largest planter.