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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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Volume 18, No. 2 - Spring 2010

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Gardening - Work Smarter, Not Harder

Lisa Becker Project Coordinator, Delaware AT Reuse Project Center for Disabilities Studies

Gardening is healthful, a social outlet, and can improve thought processing, regardless of an individual’s abilities. In fact, it can be a lifelong activity. Gardening tasks are attainable with planning, functional tools, guidance and creativity. I encourage you to give some thought to your abilities and hope that the following will help guide you along your garden path.

Garden designer and wheelchair user Gene Rothert, in his book titled The Enabling Garden, suggests raising your soil level to a comfortable working height via raised beds, containers, window boxes, and/or hanging baskets. Hanging baskets are adjustable using a pulley system. Raised beds bring plants to an arm’s reach, and depending on the design, can be a place to rest for a weary gardener or additional seating when entertaining. Containers come in a variety of sizes and costs and can be placed on a raised surface—curbs, walls, pedestals, tables, and/or wheeled plant stands—in order to bring plants within reach. Trellising and espaliering are options for vertical gardening, making it easier to admire your garden and harvest your produce.

Paths and walkways are important considerations for safe maneuvering in all outdoor spaces. They should have a smooth, firm surface—pavers, brick, or concrete—for anyone who has difficulty on uneven or soft surfaces. Walkway edges should be high enough or have enough color contrast to guide individuals, and adding sound-making devices such as wind chimes, water features, or even pinwheels can help orient and guide individuals with low-vision.

Plant selection is a challenge many gardeners face, regardless of their abilities. Choose plants suitable for your climate that will thrive in your garden’s micro-system—soil, temperature, precipitation, and sun exposure. Additional considerations include:

For specific plant suggestions, visit your local garden center or contact the Delaware Cooperative Extension Offices (see resources below).

photo of the easy-grip fork, a garden tool with a fork end and a handle set at ninety degrees from the fork, which can be borrowed from your local ATRC.“Proper” Garden Tools make tasks easier for all gardeners. Long-handled and lightweight tools reduce back stress and enable you to work longer. Individuals with weak grips may benefit from thicker handles. Of course, remember your local ATRC for garden tools and ideas for adaptations to the ones you own. Additional information about choosing tools follows.

Helpful Websites

Homemade Enabling Tools

Kneeling Pads can be created with a sheet of foam rubber, an old pillow, or a cushion about 8 ½” wide, 16” long and 1 ½” thick that is sealed in a plastic bag with waterproof tape.

Knee Pads that attach to long pants can be made from two 5” by 5” pads of 1½” thick foam. Sew a heavy duty, durable fabric around the foam like a pillowcase, attach Velcro to each pad and your pants, then attach pads when needed.

Cushioned Tool Handles increase gripping ability, protect sensitive hands, and decrease fine motor fatigue by inserting tool handles into foam pipe insulation tubes, crutch handle grips, or the like. Gluing may be necessary if handles slip.

Wrist Splints are helpful for individuals who cannot grasp tools. Small tools can be adapted using two or three long lengths of Velcro straps then wrapped around a hand, wrist, and/or forearm. Be careful not to over-tighten the straps, which could limit your circulation.

Padded Plant Stakes decrease the likelihood of injury if someone falls in the garden. Cut off the foot of socks, nylons, or tights just below the heel and stuff it tightly with cut up pieces from the remainder of the item. Tape or tie it on the end of the stake, making sure you cannot feel the stake through the padding. Consider synthetics because they dry quickly and are less susceptible to mold or mildew.

Homemade Pellet Seeds are made by rolling a small seed into a small piece of toilet paper, making the seed easier to see and handle. The toilet paper will break down after the seed is planted.

No-Bend Seeders consist of a length of PVC pipe 3’ to 5’ long—a length that reaches from your lap to the ground—and no wider than 3 inches, though narrower is fine if it doesn’t hinder your ability to drop a seed into the opening. A funnel can be attached to the PVC pipe, if necessary. This process is especially useful for planting larger seeds.

Seed spacers are designed to help properly place seeds and plants to avoid overcrowding and come in a variety of forms. Three are described below. Standardizing the spaces to 6” will simplify their creation. You can use temporary markers, such as clothespins or rubber bands, to easily identify greater increments, referring to the instructions on seed and seedling containers prior to planting.

This section comes from the UNL Cooperative Extension-Platte County’s Tools & Techniques for Easier Gardening by Ocone & Thabault, and the National Gardening Association.

Additional Resources

photo of a pair of pruners with a loop handle and spring that makes them reopen when your grip is released. These can be borrowed from your local ATRC.Thrive, a small English charity, helps people with disabilities start or continue gardening and offers practical information at

Iowa State University Extension Office provides information about raised beds—building, planting, and caring. Search “Creating Raised Bed Planters” at to download the guide.

The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension,, offers many services to Delawareans, among them general home gardening and landscape. They’ve also partnered with the Food Bank of Delaware,, to host “Plant a Row for the Hungry,” which encourages gardeners to share produce with food banks. Click on the carrot at the Food Bank website to learn more.

When all is said and done, the idea is to get out in a garden, be creative, and the rewards will follow! ■

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