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Accessibility in School Gardens

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In my vision of an ideal world, accessible school gardens would incorporate the principle of Universal Design and be an integral part of the original building plan for all schools. But in reality, addressing accessibility in school gardens can be a daunting task. Schools often have limited resources and gardens are later additions to the school grounds. Here are some ideas on making school gardening accessible for all students:

Tabletop Gardening:

Engage students in gardening through tabletop activities such as planting seeds, separating or potting up seedlings, and working with houseplants. This allows for inclusion and productivity in a school gardening program, particularly for students with special needs.

Youth tabletop gardening at the New Hanover County Arboretum

Gardening with the Ability Garden, houseplants.

Tabletop gardening with seeds in school garden

Seeding in cell pack on a table.

Tabletop potting station setup by sidewalk for accessibility.

Tabletop potting station setup by sidewalk for accessibility.

Accessible Raised Beds:

While providing ADA-compliant paths to raised beds might not always be feasible, schools can construct accessible beds along existing sidewalks for students with mobility challenges. Wheelchair-accessible raised bed designs are available, and growing in bags, like soil or fabric grow bags, offers a portable and reusable alternative.

Growing Vertically:

Explore online resources for purchasing or building vertical gardens that can be placed in accessible areas on school grounds. Options include trellises, living walls, espalier, stakes, cages, wall-mounted pots, hanging pots, cane teepees, archways, and growing on fences, among others.

Accessible Gardening Tools:

Utilize adaptive tools to make gardening easier for students facing accessibility challenges. Regularly search for terms like “gardening tools for wheelchair users” or “adaptive garden hand tools” to discover a variety of options tailored to specific needs.

Gardening for the Senses:

Consider the sensory aspects of gardening beyond visual impact. Use plants with diverse textures, fragrant and edible leaves, and those that produce sounds, such as the seed pods of Baptisia australis (False Indigo). Explore sensory plant using Sensory tags In NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

Inclusive Expression:

School gardens can serve as spaces where children of all abilities express themselves. Embrace multiple engagement approaches, allowing students to communicate and express themselves through various means, including touching, smelling, tasting, drawing, and pointing at pictures.

While creating accessible school gardens may present challenges, these ideas demonstrate that with creative solutions and a commitment to inclusivity, it’s possible to make gardening a rewarding and inclusive experience for all students, regardless of their abilities or needs.

Resources:NC State Center for Universal Design

Farmers Almanac – How to Grow Vertically in Your Garden

Virginia Cooperative Extension – Vertical Gardening Using Trellises, Stakes, and Cages

DiynCrafts – 20 DIY Vertical Gardens You Can Set Up Anywhere

References: 

Harte, Helene Arboute. (2013). Universal Design and Outdoor Learning. Dimensions of Early Childhood. Vol 41, No 3, 18 – 22.