Requesting 'gardening dispite physical limitations' info.

Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 5a)

I am a Master Gardener and I pass on lots of info in response to inquiries on the phone hotline. Since I am not personally 'disabled' I don't really have a good handle on just what works and what doesn't and I find it difficult to locate good published information on the little details and practicalities that work in real life. There is a disconnect between the people wanting to garden and the people who are trying to help. What I need to know is what tools work if you have trouble grasping a handle, what is a good height for raised beds, how do you get from one end of the garden path to the other without getting stuck. If you have a chair or scooter, how do you use it and what problems come up? If you are using a walker, how do you carry your tools? How do you keep the walker from sinking in the soil? I don't need to know the statistics on how many gardeners are disabled or why. I just need to know what problems they run into and how they solve them.
Just what are the everyday problems and how do you deal with them? I have always found it difficult to ask the questions face to face because sometimes people feel they are being humored or feel uncomfortable about the whole thing and they feel embarrassed and I feel embarrassed and the info gets lost or filtered.Sometimes, I don't even know the questions to ask. I'm not a social worker or trying to make someone feel good. I just want to get the right info to people who are frustrated and don't want to give up something they love.
Thanks for your input. Jessamine

Northern, IN

I don't want your first reply to be radical and far out as this might seem to some but there are people who would garden except for the fact that can't walk much at all -- a very basic handicap to say the least.

Well, this pic shows my solution to that problem and even shows my 'potato tool' in the front basket as evidence of the 100 pounds I got from my patch all while seated in the scooter.


Thumbnail by GoldenDomer
Northern, IN

To wrap up my comments on the potato patch let me say that as a disabled person I had my choice of straw or black plastic to avoid the difficult labor of mounding each plant as it grew. Though the black plastic can be slick to walk on at times, I chose it because I would always be seated on my scooter and it would be far less messy for me to clean up by myself afterwards.

This top pic shows the plastic in disarray during harvest and the bottom pic shows a partial (one hour) harvest that included some one pounders. I include the sink full to prove that my 4 X 16 foot patch was a good producer.

Thumbnail by GoldenDomer
Newark, OH(Zone 5b)

Wow! Look at the size of those taters! Great tips, Dave.

Fort Wayne, IN(Zone 5a)

Hey Dave: Thanks for the comeback. I appreciate the info and the pics.I hope these will be only the start of a nice thick file I can use for reference. Have you found any special tools that do a good job for you? Some of them seem to be difference for the sake of difference. Sandy

Cleveland, GA(Zone 7a)

I was only temporarily disabled when I had surgery on my foot some time ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I have always been such an active person and I refused to sit around and watch t.v. while I was mending. I used a small lightweight backpack to carry my stuff around in, since I was on crutches and I needed my hands for the crutches. I kept a bottle of water, my medicine, a little towel, all kinds of stuff in there.

I had a dear friend named Katie who knew I needed to get outside among my plants or I would go crazy. She drove me to Pike's Nursery and got one of those flatbed carts and brought it to the car. I got out and sat down on the flatbed cart and she pushed me all around the nursery. I picked out a number of small plants that I wanted to plant along the front of my house and we put them on the cart next to me while we shopped. When we got back to my house she carried all the potted plants up to the front of the house and set them where I could reach them before she left.

Each day I went outside and pulled weeds and planted those plants a little at a time. The crutches were more trouble than they were worth so I would scoot around on my butt from one side of my little flower garden to the other. Every day the mailman came by and said "can I help you up?" I would say no thanks, I'm fine. People would go by walking their dogs or kids in strollers and say "can I help you get up?" and usually I would say "no, thanks" or "maybe you could just hand me that little shovel I left over at there?" I think the most important thing I learned is that when I wanted to garden, I wouldn't let anything stop me. Not the crutches, not the pain, not the people staring at me like I was wierd.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Our DG member Handhelpers has some ergonomic tools and things on her website.

Northern, IN

Timely contribution, darius.

Frederick, MD

Fabulous! I just went to the site and purchased a couple of ergonomic tools. This will be great information to share when I give a Master Gardener's presentation to a retirement home next week. Thanks!

Coopersburg, PA(Zone 6b)

hi earthwormlover - i just got back from a conference in calif.....will see if my new helper was helpful to you :>) and that you got your things in a timely manner. any questions about the tools, please let me know through email. thanks! ~toby

Lincoln City, OR(Zone 9a)


Six weeks ago I had hip replacement surgery. I was given orders not to garden or do anything that could twist the hip and also was given orders not to reach down past my knees due to concerns that I might dislocate this new joint. Well yesterday I was given permission to spread my legs out and lean over so I can now pull weeds. The only thing is he doesn't want me to twist my body at all but it is so nice to be able to pull the weeds again. My poor DH was all alone in our gardens for all these weeks and last evening he made the remark that it was a happy day to see me back in the garden again. :) It was a very happy day for me too.

Handhelper's products are great! She has a unique line of products and great prices too. One local nursery carries some of the same tools but even with shipping costs her tools are less expensive than theirs. Thanks, Toby, for putting together all these inovative products and keeping the prices more affordable for all.



Newark, OH(Zone 5b)

Great to hear you're able to get back in the garden, Lani!

I've re-discovered how great an ordinary 5-gallon bucket is, flipped over and used as a seat. Getting up and down on the ground is not always too easy, but with the bucket I'm in good shape! Mine's been my best gardening buddy (next to my hubby) the last three days as we've weeded, prepared a new bed, and mulched.

Broaddus, TX(Zone 8b)

Zone 8b, Lake Sam Rayburn , southeast, TX
I have RA which limits my ability to bend knees to weed, & care for plants. Need "arm extender" which I could weed with.

How to keep FIRE ANTS out of my raised beds?

Gardening is all I have left that I do with passion which renews my spirit. The joy of results, makes gardening worth the RA pain.

I appreciate ideas you DGers have shared.

Happy, safe, successful gardening to all.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

To answer your original question: what is hard for me to do? EVERYTHING. My DH has done some amazing things, like build a retaining wall against the hill to make a raised bed (4' high?) and then build a 30' long concrete paver pathway so I can get from the door to my raised bed. I live in a wheelchair - I have 'moderately bad' MS according to my neurologist. I have extremely poor balance; if I lean over to pick something up I'm likely to fall out of my chair. I haven't figured a way around that one. I do my best on the patio waith lots of annuals in smallish pots that I can rearrange as desired. Watering is a problem - I can't carry enough water to be useful. FATIGUE is a huge problem - all these tasks are difficult for me. I do a lot of container gardening. HEAT is hard for me too ~ I only last maybe 15 minutes outside when it's July or August ~ that's with energy. I can lie in the sun for hours enjoying the floppy feeling in my bones. It's just that the floppy feeling is the same one that means I can't sit up straight on my own. The thing that bugs me the most is that I can't get down at the dirt's level except in that one raised bed. And I can't trust other people to help, because they don't do it right! My DH plants sun-demanding plants in the shade, and sun-intolerant plants in the sun! He is incredibly helpful, wonderful, supportive, 'says' he gardens because it makes ME happy, he's all I ever dreamed of in a man. Still, we have a few spots that are shady; if I buy a shady plant, he should put it in the shade! My Personal Care Attendant is even worse; he's Czech but learned English (a little English) from British people, so when we talk about "the garden" he thinks I mean the lawn! Sigh. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to let all my frustrations out in one breath.

xxxxx, Carrie

St. Louis County, MO(Zone 5a)

Jessamine, it has been awhile since anyone posted, but one thing has helped me this year with watering is a tiny hose that is used for misting a birdbath. I think they sell it for spot watering, too, but I use it as a hose with the mister on the end. I can just stick it into a pot, leave it for awhile, and move it to the next one. It is small enough that it is easy to roll up, light enough that I can move it around. Even my husband is using it now, and he is fully able. I think my potted plants are doing better being watered in this gentle way.


St. Louis County, MO(Zone 5a)

Check out cowpea's wheelchair accessible raised beds, they are wonderful and not expensive to make. My son is going to build a couple for me!

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)


St. Louis County, MO(Zone 5a)

CowPea is the person who wrote in, sorry I was vague. It is in the accessible gardening, raised bed designes. Here is the link to the discussion, the raised beds are wonderful:

Calais, VT

Check out for an alternative 'garden' indoors and very simple.

Eugene, OR


This site has some good tips:


Garden paths should be level, so people with mobility or balance issues don't trip or stumble. The ground should be firmly packed so that folks in manual wheelchairs don't wear themselves out getting from point to point (pushing across soft ground in a manual wheelchair can feel like wading though sand).

The ADA requires sidewalks to be 32" wide to ensure they are wide enough for nearly all types of wheelchairs. You could use this as a guideline for the paths, if you want to make sure those in wheelchairs can use them. Be sure to leave plenty of width for negotiating corners, as well.


Leaning and reaching can be an issue, so lightweight, long-handled tools can be very helpful. Because of the limited reach issue, it's also a good idea to keep the beds relatively small or narrow in size, so alter-abled folks can reach everything.

Raised beds are good because it's often hard for those with mobility issues to reach down. But the same applies for reaching tools, hoses, buckets, etc. Putting these items up on a raised platform or in raised boxes means people can reach them without having to lean to the ground.

ADA guidelines for worktop height is 28 in to 34 in, so that would probably be a good starting guideline for raised beds, as well, though. Also, this site has good tips on dimensions: :

"Forward reach from a wheelchair, without bending, is about 30 inches. Beds with access on just one side should be no wider than 2 to 3 feet. Beds with pathways all around can be 4 to 5 feet wide depending on the gardenerís reach and upper arm strength."


It's a good idea to get lightweight or ergonomic tools to help those with weak or compromised grips. If you have a compromised grip or hand strength, it's hard to turn little round faucets -- it's very helpful to have some sort of a lever to turn the water on and off.


It's also hard to carry things when you are in a wheelchair or using a cane. Small, sturdy boxes or baskets work reasonably well for wheelchair users who can put them on their laps.

I hope these ideas are helpful. Gardening is an incredibly therapeutic activity. It's very easy for those with mobility issues to end up isolated because of difficulties with access everywhere in society, and those who are injured often lose their hobbies and ways of connecting with the community. I hope you keep up the effort to include people with disabilities in your community gardening activities, because I believe it's a very meaningful endeavor.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Excellent post, lupe. I used to sew some of my own clothes, sing, and teach music. (In the old days, when teachers still used chalk and black boards.) I painted the kitchen and installed tile floors and was generally quite handy as well as creative. I really could change the look of my living room in a weekend! Now, at 46, I am unable to do most of those things. (I do squeak out a note or two on occasion...) But the creative things I used to be good at are no longer a possibility. My grandmother was a great gardener, and I must have had some latent gardening genes passed down because now I am a pretty good gardener myself. It uses my ideas about color combinations and involves much long range planning. It doesn't require too much fine motor coordination, I can do a lot of things with one hand (unlike using a sewing machine, which takes two hands AND a foot), and everybody walks by and says "nice garden". My EX-H is jealous. I dream about monocots and F2 hybrids. I have an avocation!

xxxx, Carrie

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