Planning our Accessible Garden – Part 1

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve done a few little things here and there to make our bungalow accessible and safe for Mr Wheel Chic Home, but the primary area of the house that’s still unaccessible is the garden.

We’ve managed the past five years to get Mr WCH into the garden by means of brute force and sheer luck but it’s time to have proper access for him, and for me as I’m doing most of the heavy lifting!

Our bungalow is mid-century, built in 1958 and is on a corner plot in a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban West Sussex.  Being a corner plot means we have garden on three sides. It’s a large garden but not a great usable space for the wheelchair.

When we were house hunting we saw 55 bungalows, and many of them had far more accessible gardens, and some were completely inaccessible, with five or ten steps down or up into the garden.  Our house has a couple of steps so we felt it would be fairly easy to sort out the access.

At the end of our garden we have a garage and a home office.  Since October 2018, Mr WCH has been working from home.  Not due to his disability, but his company closed down the local office so everyone became home workers (unless he wanted to drive 60miles to the next closest office!).  At the moment he’s working from the kitchen table as he can’t access the office, so we’ve finally decided to take the plunge and get the garden done so he can use the office and have some separation between work and home.

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So we’ve had a quote from a landscaper and will hopefully be starting in May 2019 and I wanted to share the challenges we have with some ‘before’ photos and to talk about our plans.

So, let’s start with the different issues in the garden.  First up, the actual way out of the patio doors in the kitchen-diner is down a step, then up a couple of steps to the path:

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The problem here, that you might not be able to see from the photos is that the door is a couple of inches lower than the path.  As we have a wheelchair threshold on the door, if we just put a ramp there, any heavy rain would fall down the slope and end up in the kitchen, so we have to be careful how we go about this access.

So the plan is to dig out and to move the rocks and grass on the left side back by about 3 feet (to where the drain cover is) to allow us to put in a low deck that is level with the door. The grass will be held back with railway sleepers painted in slate grey which matches the raised beds we have around the garden.

We’ve chosen a deck for a couple of reasons – we have a damp proofing course and air bricks by the patio door which we can’t cover easily, so a deck would still allow air to circulate through the air brick and a deck would also allow rain water to fall between the slats and not reach the kitchen.  We’ve chosen composite decking, which is pretty much zero maintainence, and highly rated for non-slip, which is perfect for Mr WCH.

We’ll have the decking going across the full width of the back of the house, to cover the 1970’s crazy paving, and it will be ramped each side to allow full access around the side of the house and to the side gate.  This is useful in case the front door is out of action for whatever reason and we can enter the house via the patio door, but also serves as emergency access in case of fire.  We’ll remove the 1970’s rocks and replace with railway sleepers.  Eventually we’ll also get a bin store to hide the wheelie bins.

Once the deck is built, we need to rebuild the gradient of the path up to the office, and the path needs to be widened to allow the wheelchair to go up without him falling off the side and landing face first in the grass!

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We’ll be able to reuse some of the left over slabs we have around the garden to widen the path, so that should save a few pounds.  The path will need to be rebuilt on a new gradient and we’ll rebuild the drain cover by having a recessed cover with the paving slab inlaid into it, so it becomes invisible.

Once the path has been rebuilt we also need to rebuild the path by the office as the ramp that we built a few years ago is not high enough to work with the new door. The ramp needs to be redone on the right gradient and we’ll also improve the access onto the deck from the path.

As I mentioned in my last post about wheelchair ramps, the ideal gradient for a manual wheelchair is 1:12 (so for every one inch of height, you need 12 inches of slope).  For the home, 1:10 is usually suitable, and for electric wheelchairs a 1:8 is ok, but ideally you need the ramp as shallow as you can for ease.

Then, when all that is done, I’d like to replace the large decking with the nonslip composite boards, and then also get a pergola on the deck, as it’s in full sun and some shade would be great.  And then I’d also like to the get the tarmac leading to the garage relaid as it’s broken and a bit shabby at the moment. The cost for the garden is quickly going up at this rate!

Of course, then we need to get the office decorated and ready for Mr WCH to start working in there.  He has a lot of space geekery in there, pictures and objects about the moon landings, Dr Who, Star Trek, Star Wars and some collectables, so we’ll set up his half of the office with his stuff and my half of the office, with my sewing machine and my bits and pieces.  I need to find a design that works for both halves of the room!  That will be a fun challenge!  I’ll do a moodboard shortly on that, with inclusive and accessible furniture and his favourite stuff around him.

I might even get the outside of the office painted.  Hmmm….  Don’t tell Mr WCH, I keep adding things to the scope of the project!

So that’s the starting point of the garden renovation, I’ll keep you all up to date on the progress of the build and the issues we come across along the way!  If you have any comments or questions on the access issues please let me know!

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