No matter where you find yourself in the country, spring is a time of growth and renewal. With the days getting longer, the weather getting warmer, and the calendar inching closer to summer, it’s impossible not to feel the pull to spend more time outdoors. For those managing illness or disability, it can be difficult to find outside activity suitable to their special needs. Gardening is an activity that can be easily adapted to accommodate almost any individual.
Perceiving gardening as merely a way to procure fresh food is taking a limited view of the activity. Aside from the natural and delicious fruits, herbs, and vegetables, and beautiful flowers that can be grown in your own backyard, gardening has been proven to have beneficial effects on health and mood. Studies have shown that tending a garden can lead to increased relaxation, reduced stress levels, improved overall nutrition, lowered blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart disease.
Gardening reduces stress and calms the nerves, and decreases production of cortisol, a steroid hormone released in response to stress. In fact, in centers around the world, gardening is being used to treat those with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Today, it’s easier than ever to garden, regardless of physical ability. For those with limited mobility, or suffering from arthritis, the main considerations are plot size, bed and container height, and usable tools. The size of your garden should be just right – and definitely not too big. Determine the amount of time and energy you reasonably want to spend in the garden over the course of the summer, keeping in mind tasks like weeding and adding compost or fertilizer. Raised gardens tend to be easier to manage, especially for those for whom leaning and kneeling is uncomfortable.
Adaptive tools come in handy for those with limited mobility. These ergonomically designed tools make gardening easier, weighing less than their traditional counterparts, featuring larger handles and designed with angles that decrease strain. Adaptive tools are effective in reducing back, wrist and hand strain.
For a wheelchair-accessible garden, the website Apparelyzed.com, gives specific measurements to accommodate the scope of work a person is capable of performing while seated. The size of a normal garden is a nine-square-foot plot, which adheres to the following guidelines:
- Raised planting beds should be three feet wide or three feet in diameter.
- The beds should be raised from 18” to 32” (approximately table height).
- Areas used for potting should be designed as a working area with space beneath them (similar to a table or desk), if they are 29”-32” tall.
- The path leading to and between the raised beds should be composed of a hard-packed material.
Regardless of whether you’re planning multiple plots, or a single trellised tomato plant, the benefits of gardening are immeasurable on health and wellbeing.