Toolshed Tips: Building Accessible Gardens

Building Accessible Gardens

By Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator

It’s time to spruce up your garden—assess the damage of the winter on beds, pathways and other garden infrastructure, and get things in good shape for the growing season! As you’re replacing beds and re-establishing pathways, this is an excellent time to ask yourselves: “Is our garden accessible for people using it?” Here are some questions to consider and designs to get your projects moving.

An accessible garden takes into consideration:

  • the strengths and limitations of its gardeners,
  • how the garden space will be used,
  • and what’s needed to make gardeners feel supported and successful.

Start by asking yourselves:

  1. Who are the gardeners and volunteers?
  2. Who else might use the space if it were more accessible?
  3. How do you plan to use the space? (i.e. growing, instruction, exploration, community space, etc.)

Garden Entrance

Considerations: door handle height 34-48 inches and width 32 inches when open for universal accessibility

  • Is the door weight and latch easy for your gardeners to handle?
  • Is the garden entrance easy to access from points of entry (i.e. walkways, buildings and parking areas)?

    Accessible pathway, Barre City Elementary & Middle School


Considerations: 36 inches wide with turning point of 60 inches diameter at reasonable intervals and at both ends of the

garden for universal accessibility; especially consider people using walkers, canes or wheelchairs; if needed, consider hard pathway surfaces

  • Are the paths the best width/size for the gardeners and their activities?
  • Are the pathway materials conducive for safely walking/moving in the garden (i.e. clear of obstructions, even surface, traction)?


Considerations: visible for people of all heights; especially consider people with visual impairment

  • Is there garden signage present that clearly informs and guides users and visitors?
  • Is garden signage understandable for gardeners (i.e. visuals, translations, braille)?
  • Is garden signage easy for gardeners to read (i.e. clear, large, bold)?


Considerations: levers easy to turn; spigot no more than 40 inches high for universal accessibility

  • Is the water faucet an appropriate distance for users (consider hose length too)?
  • Is the water delivery system (i.e. hose, sprinklers, watering cans, etc.) appropriate for the gardeners using them?
  • Is the setting up and putting away of the watering system appropriate for the gardens or volunteers?

Garden beds

Accessible bed designed by student, Barre City Elementary & Middle School

Considerations: 2 ½ feet wide if accessible by one side only; 4 feet wide if accessible by two sides; 20-36 inches high for sitting on edge or standing; for wheelchair accessibility 34 inches high with 27 inches of clear space underneath the garden bed (allows for only 7 inches of growing space; either choose shallow-rooted plants or a key-hole design); consider vertical gardening; ask your gardeners what they need

  • Does the bed/garden length, width and height suit the gardeners?
  • Does the layout of the beds/gardens make it easy to move around the garden?
  • Is it clear where different group’s beds/gardens start and end?
  • Are the bed sizes appropriate for the types of plants you want to grow?



  • Are tools the right size, weight and shape for users?
  • Is the storage of tools appropriate for the gardeners and volunteers?

Other infrastructure


  • Is there an area where gardeners can sit and get shade?
  • Are there areas for garden activities beyond growing vegetables? (i.e. play areas, space for teepee/ other structures, outdoor cooking area, outdoor classroom, etc.)
  • Is the garden located in a safe area? (i.e. an appropriate distance from traffic, dangerous objects, etc.)

Incorporating these considerations into the garden design will make for less work and frustration for the gardeners and volunteers. A happy experience will lead to more enthusiasm, involvement and success!

Primary reference used: “A Guide for Making Community Gardens Accessible for all Members” from Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo. Check it out for more on Universal Design, tips, visuals and additional links.

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