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Media Room

Landscaping My Universal Design Dream Home

Action Magazine
May 2008
By Rosemarie Rossetti
Copyright © 2008 Rosemarie Rossetti
Publication copyright © 2008 United Spinal Association

I am in the early stages of designing the landscape for my new home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory. This home and garden will be open for tours to the public when it is completed, estimated to be spring 2009. My husband and I purchased a 1.5-acre treeless lot and will be building a 3,500 sq. ft. national demonstration home on it soon. The rest of the property will be designed for outdoor living and scenic views from inside the home, as well as from the patio area.

This design process will be a learning experience for me and the landscape architect, Bill Gerhardt of GreenScapes Landscape Architects & Contractors. We are both horticulturists, yet neither of us has much experience designing with wheelchair accessibility in mind. With my nine years experience as a wheelchair user, I will bring insights to the table regarding the slope of the property, width and materials used for the walkways.

My husband and I have discussed how we want to create outdoor living space by including a screened-in porch and large patio. The patio will be large enough for outdoor furniture, circulation space for me to maneuver around this furniture, and accommodate large container plantings. I envision this patio will be easy to access from the kitchen.

Since each of the exterior doors on this house has no step entrances, we need to be mindful of the final grade of the property by these doors. Our architect, Patrick Manley, has paid special attention to the engineering drawings to make sure the lot slopes away from the home so rainwater and melting snow will not flow into the house. As the final landscape plans are drawn, we will need to re-check these grades.

The addition of hardscapes—the part of a building’s grounds consisting of structures made with hard materials, such as patios, decks, retaining walls, and walkways—adds to the budget. Rolling on a hard surface patio that is constructed with stamped concrete or smooth surfaced pavers will be easier than rolling on gravel, mulch, or the lawn. The same material used to construct the patio will likely be used for the walkways. These will encircle the house and branch off to other sections of the landscape that contain the water garden and raised garden beds. Extensive walkways in a landscape improve your accessibility if you use a wheelchair for mobility.

I will also carefully oversee the design and materials selected to construct the raised garden beds. As I have seen beds in botanical gardens and residential landscapes, I am partial to beds made out of wood since they are not as likely to scratch my wheelchair as much as those made out of concrete, pavers, bricks or stone.

There are many questions that need to be answered as you begin an accessible garden landscape design from scratch. The extensiveness of the plan will be in direct relation to your budget for the project. Sculpting the land and moving soil is an expensive operation.

In the August 2007 issue of Action magazine, Linda Stango, AIA, wrote “Planning an Accessible Garden” a comprehensive overview article that contained tips to construct raised beds, table tops gardens, container gardens, vertical and trellis gardens. This article is a good primer on what garden elements are possible and important considerations to keep in mind as you start a design.

There are many additional resources that are worth your time reviewing.

Look at these accessible gardening links to get more ideas and information. Accessible Garden Tools for Sale:

Books on Accessible Gardening:

Instructions on How to Create a Wheelchair Accessible Garden Bed Planter Box

Forum on Accessible Gardening: For the discussion of gardening by and for people with physical limitations and is meant to cover everything from raised gardens to easy-to-use tools.

Handicap Accessible Gardening
Lists accessible gardening articles on the Internet.

MDA Publications “Accessible Gardening”

GardenGuides.com “I’m Not Getting Older, I’m Just Getting Stiffer” Article by Carol Wallace. A review of particular gardening tools to make reaching, digging and weeding easier.

Horticultural Therapy - Create an Enabled Garden” by Joyce Schillen

American Horticultural Therapy Association
Contains an on-line store where many accessible gardening books and the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture can be purchased.

Note: This is part three of a three-part series.

Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is building a national model universal design home in metropolitan Columbus, Ohio. She is an internationally known speaker, trainer, consultant, and writer. To contact Rosemarie go to: www.RosemarieSpeaks.com. To learn more about the Universal Design Living Laboratory go to: www.UDLL.com.

Copyright © 2005-2021 Universal Design Living Laboratory. All rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright © 2005-2021 Universal Design Living Laboratory. All rights reserved worldwide.