Finding the Accessible in the Inaccessible – Garden and Outdoor Spaces

During Winter, our thoughts generally turn towards Spring and warmer weather, and this leads us into how we might want to use our garden once the weather warms up. With lockdowns during 2020 and 2021, outdoor space became even more important if we couldn’t get further afield, and this prompted lots of Instagram posts of gorgeous gardens and outdoor spaces which have given me lots of inspiration for accessible spaces, even if the garden itself isn’t fully accessible.

As always with these posts about finding the accessible in the inaccessible, I find that I can get inspiration and ideas from others’ homes. Whilst the homes and the gardens we’re looking at aren’t necessarily accessible, ANY HOME can give us plenty of ideas that we can adapt in some way to be suitable for our accessible homes, and there are definitely elements in the gardens below that can give us inspiration.

Accessible gardens and outdoor spaces (ours is now accessible as far as it can be, see the post of how we managed that here) require an easy way to get in and out, and space for wheelchairs or other equipment. Ideally it would have no trip hazards, easy to use furniture, and raised beds would be great for some wheelchair users to be able to do the gardening themselves. For sensory needs, consider using lots of texture in the plants, the leaves, look at plants of different shapes, sizes and smells. Maybe a water feature or a windchime and also consider how you might use lighting in warm evenings – all these aspects can contribute to a sensory experience in the garden.

So, let’s take a look at some of my favourite outdoor spaces:

Gardens

Maz from The Wooden Hill has got a beautiful home with a real focus on biophilic design. It’s full of plants, wood and natural textures, and background and mood lighting that can be altered to time of day and other needs to give the best light for working, eating, studying, board games and more.

Maz’s garden is small but beautiful. The access from the kitchen/living area is completely flat as the door runners are lowered into the decking and this means there’s no threshold, the inside flows fully to the outside and the garden is really the extension to the inside. There are bifolding doors which can be a great idea for those in a wheelchair as they should be easy to fold away, but may be heavy so do check on that before you get them installed.

Once outside, Maz has added wooden sleepers to make planters high up which is useful for those in wheelchairs or for those who have trouble bending down to the floor to do their gardening. Having them high up allows easier access and whilst you can’t get your knees under, you can reach the plant beds much more easily at this height.

Maz also has used this same theme to create a seating area at custom height from wooden sleepers. This is a great idea, and will allow you to get the right height for your needs. You could leave a space at the bottom for a portable hoist to sit under for transferring. The pergola comes in handy for shade, hanging lighting from, and also could be useful for a hanging chair if you like, or could maybe be used for a hoist . By adding cushions, throws, candles and a glass of wine it’s definitely a stunning space and one I’d love to have.

If you’re interested in Biophilic Design – do take a look at Maz’s blog, some fantastic ideas on how to have a healthy happy home.

Next up is Lees.Reno – we’ve featured Lee on the blog before (see here for details on how he’d adapted his home for his specific needs) – but I wanted to zone in on his excellent, low maintenance, wheelchair friendly garden.

Like Maz’s garden, Lee’s also has completely flat access out from the kitchen/living area to the garden. The bi-fold doors are again set into the floor so there’s an invisible threshold which helps with his walking with a crutch to get to the garden, or when using a wheelchair there’s no obstacle to get out there and enjoy the sun.

The pergola gives a sense of scale and style, it’s really easy to get screens attached to a pergola structure for privacy and additional shade. Lee has chosen rattan style seating here, you may want to choose something that suits your needs but I love the fact the pergola ‘outside room’ can have a different feel by moving the furniture to create space for chilling, dining or chatting with friends. There’s also a secondary seating area at the back of the house, down a gentle slope (again perfect for those with mobility needs) if you fancy a different view of the world!

Lee has also used artificial turf for the grass area, so there’s no maintenance needed, no moving of heavy lawnmowers. You can hose it down to clean it, vacuum leaves off and it’s also really lovely to walk on. I love the large scale of the plants and trees which are also low maintenance if you’re not up to doing any gardening (or if you’re like me, really lazy!).

It’s such a sunny cheerful garden with bright colours, giving a real holiday vibe, which has been so important during lockdowns and issues with travelling abroad in recent times.

Decks

If you haven’t got a large space for a garden and instead have space for a deck, balcony or roof terrace then these can also be great for accessibility. Again, the key is access, ensuring that there’s trip free access from the home to the outside. Comfortable seating, lighting and consideration to safety measures like fencing or glass panels can make a real difference to how luxurious the deck will feel and how user friendly it is. If you add some large, structural plants in big pots or planters will give you the feeling of being on holiday! Also you might want to think about an outdoors rug for colour and definition of the space. These types of rugs are extremely thin, low pile, waterproof and washable with the garden hose, if you still it down with double sided rug tape you’ll be able to keep it down all year if you want.

I’d recommend a composite decking board, zero maintenance for 10-15 years, they have a high nonslip rating and you don’t have to paint them every year (which I know from previous experience is the worst job ever!). They are little more pricey than regular decking boards but it will give you peace of mind for sure.

If you’ve got a small balcony or deck, you couldn’t do better than look at Melanie Lissack’s home. Firstly if you don’t already follow her on Instagram, then why not?! She’s the Queen of DIY and curator of an excellent award winning interiors blog, and the small balcony off her living room has some great accessible inspiration.

Firstly, the railings around the decking are sturdy to hold onto, if you need help moving around, and she’s got loads of lovely comfy seating. The access to the balcony isn’t accessible, there’s a small step but that’s easily remedied with a small portable ramp that you can hide away during the winter season. The bench is a great piece of furniture that’s got really sturdy arms, helpful for getting in and out of the seat. She’s also dressed this balcony with modular rattan furniture too, which is great from a comfort perspective.

What I really love here though, are the cute wall planters, and raised planter bed, which you can arrange at the perfect height for you to work on your gardening skills, such an easy idea for a sensory idea for children, or for green fingered wheelchair users. You could even attach planters to the railings to get them at the right height for you. Just because you have a small space, doesn’t mean you can’t get all the style and the access needs in there.

Sandra from Wheely_Love_Living has got a lovely deck that is so easy to reach, and I love the modular furniture and the lighting gives it a warm feel even if it’s chilly. The glass balustrade gives a real feeling of quality and gives an unobstructed view to rest of the garden.

Another favourite of mine is the home of Katherine and her family who have a deck with a view to beat all views. It’s accessible for her son from the road via a wheelchair platform lift and from the living area very easily via large french doors. Katherine has set up wheelchair level gardening beds for her son to help out with the gardening and to get a full sensory experience. The see through balustrade is child and dog friendly (no need to be constantly cleaning glass from sticky fingers and dog’s noses!) and with the view, you really get the holiday vibe! I love it.

We have two decks in our garden, the newest one from two years ago is right outside the kitchen door and is our favourite spot to sit as it’s the shadiest part of the garden – having the deck right by the door has been a real game changer, and it’s something we used most days during 2020 lockdown and I can’t wait for the warmer weather to come so we can use it again!

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve got any other ideas for an accessible garden space – I’d love to hear from you!

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