University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
Everywhere we go we see efforts
to make life easier for those with physical challenges. Examples
we're familiar with include handicap
parking places, ramps, and special signage (even talking street
the visually impaired). So why not plan
a fruit garden that is accessible if you, or someone you know that
visiting or helping out, might have a physical challenge? The
extremes would be no vision, or mobility
in a wheelchair for instance, but many may just not be able to see
as well or
bend as well as in the past. As our
population ages, more will find they want to garden and now have the
don’t have the physical abilities they once had. Enabling fruit
gardens can be planned with
this in mind.
I have a friend who has lost most
his vision, but can still see silhouettes and the color blue. So he
paints the stakes on his fruit trees
blue, and prunes them by feel, having dwarf trees he can easily
reach. Another friend needs dwarf trees too, as he
has developed feet problems that don’t let him stand on ladders for
long. This past season I saw a couple in
wheelchairs picking raspberries along the edge of a lawn where they
reached from their chairs. These examples may give you some clues on
can start planning your fruiting landscape, orchard, or berry patch
First, determine what the needs are,
such as relates to vision, physical mobility, or other. Maybe you
just need fruits you can pick
without much bending or climbing. Some of the berry bushes
fit here, as well as dwarf fruit trees, espaliered fruit trees, or
grapes on a
trellis. Even if there is some ground
labor, such as pruning out canes of brambles, there are pruning
tools such as
loppers with extension handles to make the job possible without much
bending. This applies to the slightly
taller semi-dwarf trees too. If growing
the latter, perhaps you’ll only pick what you can reach and leave
the rest for
wildlife. If you want even the higher
fruit, there are small baskets on poles you can use to reach and
fruit without climbing a ladder.
If you want fruits requiring some ground
labor, such as strawberries, consider raised beds. These can be low
if the access will be with a
seat or garden scooter, or higher if by wheelchair. If for children
or scooter access, make the
sides about 18 inches high. If for wheelchair access, sides should
be 24 inches
high, or 30 inches high if you’re standing and have trouble bending.
wide edge, particularly if a wooden bed, for sitting.
Keep such raised beds narrow,
with paths on each side, so they can be reached easily. For access
by only one side, make beds 24 to
30 inches wide, or twice that if accessible by both sides. If
access is by wheelchair, consider the path
width, and the surface to make moving about easy—soil with packed
would be much easier to wheel along than small gravel. Provide
for wheelchairs, easy corners, room for U-turns, and a grade of no
more than 5
to 8 percent.
Most these latter tips apply to
those with walking challenges as well, for whom you may want to
handrails and seats. Provide backs and
arm rests on chairs and benches, and locate in shade and out of wind
possible. If able to still garden on the
ground around strawberries, as with a kneeling pad, keep rows
wider to allow room to maneuver.
Other small fruits for raised
beds, even large pots, are lowbush blueberries, cranberries,
trailing blackberries. The latter are
best for southern gardens, as they’re only hardy
to about zone 7. Strawberry pots— those
tall pots with side holes for planting runners— are another option
strawberries, as are beds in tiers.
Using metal or similar edging, even straight lumber about 6 inches
make a series of beds, one on top of the other, more narrow with
step. If straight, this resembles
steps. If circular, envision a wedding
Some dwarf fruit trees can be
grown in large pots or containers, as grapes can too. The latter
may be surprising if you’ve ever
seen grape vines on a trellis reaching 8 feet or more wide. Grapes,
however, only grow on top what their
roots can support, so less roots in a pot results in less on top.
An alternative to pots is growing grapes up
an A-frame tent trellis, tall enough so a wheelchair can pass
the gardener to tend the vines and pick the hanging grapes.
Unlike flowers and other plants
in pots, grapes prefer a sandy loam or equal parts topsoil, peat
compost. Grapes don’t need much
fertility the first year, and even less the second, and don’t
mid-summer so plants can harden for winter.
Reduce watering in mid-summer, and keep the potting medium barely
through winter. In northern climates
you’ll need to protect pots over winter, such as moving into an
garage. Heavy duty casters on large pots
or supporting frame make them easier to move about.
For grapes in containers, provide
a central stake anchored to the sides of the pot with wires. Train
the stem to the stake, and each winter
prune back leaving only a few buds to develop fruiting shoots the
year. Remove flowers the first two or
three years until plants are established, then plants can support 10
flower (and fruit) clusters per year.
those visually impaired like my friend, use contrasting colors or
might see best for marking posts to identify plants and edges,
gates, pots, tools
and latches. Use contrasting colors as
well as textures for surfaces, such as walks, and indicator strips
to identify various parts of the garden.
Audible clues help orient these gardeners in the garden as well as
pleasant sounds, whether from a water feature or wind chimes.
You may need to upgrade tools too
for more accessible gardening. There are
wheelbarrows with two wheels, easier to lift and roll. Already
mentioned are the loppers with extension handles,
but there are other ergonomic tools such as pruners with swivel
padded and curved handles, and shovels with padded and enlarged loop
for those with
water is heavy to lug about, have hoses with watering wands for
irrigation, or soaker hoses. Dry
low-analysis organic fertilizer (such as 5-3-4) may be easier to
the soil surface early in the season than repeated liquid
heavy watering cans. Use levers on faucets, as well as any gates, as
these are easier
to manipulate than turning round handles.
doesn’t mean the end to gardening, just gardening differently.
Proper planning and plant selection can
enable fruit gardening even for those with physical challenges.
While enabling gardens generally focus on
flowers, herbs, and vegetables, consider growing fruits too. Pick
fruits hardy for your area, those
cultivars (cultivated varieties) best adapted, and two or more
tree fruits. Although some tree fruits
are self-fertile, most of these bear better with cross pollination.