Inclusive Wellness Garden Design

An architectural drawing of a wellness garden
Part of a wellness design
Wheelchairs parking next to bench.

An inclusive wellness garden? There’s been a lot of buzz around the word β€˜inclusive’ lately. What does it mean? Well, since researching the topic, I’ve found it can mean many things! And be something that can be hard to retrain yourself to notice. You must learn how to include whatever was being excluded, in whatever their inclusive project is.

Clearly for me, it was designing gardens that are not just accessible to all, I wanted them to be inclusive to all. So if a facility is labeled accessible, doesn’t that mean its inclusive? No, it doesn’t.

photo description of wellness garden
Ideas for the Wellness Garden

Merriam-Webster defines accessible as: β€˜able to be reached or entered’, which is what having an accessible entrance means. Thus, if a person who uses a wheelchair is able to get into a garden because of a ramp or a curb cut out that has been strategically placed near the entrance, that’s accessibility. A garden that is inclusive goes far beyond the basic idea of people being able to just enter it.

In an inclusive wellness garden environment, people with or without disabilities mobilize around the garden in the same way and utilize the equipment and amenities inside of the garden, equally. A garden that has accessible or adaptable equipment but isolates that activity in a corner of the garden, is not an inclusive garden. A garden that has no plants that smell or no auditory additions is not an inclusive garden (to the blind). I think you get the point, however when you’re able to walk, hear and see, these things can get overlooked.

Here’s some things to think about when designing a inclusive garden:
  • No steps allowed. All elevation changes need to be addressed with ramps (grades not to exceed 5%).
  • Paths need to be wide enough for two people to walk arm in arm. A four foot minimum width.
  • Dead end paths: Need enough turnaround space for wheelchairs (5 feet), however avoid them in memory care facilities, as it can disorient and confuse some folks.
  • Paths should be made of a foot/wheel friendly material. Concrete, limestone, rotten granite and stone pavers are great choices. Pavers will require maintenance to stop them from becoming a trip hazard.
  • Nut or berry trees should not be over any paths to alleviate other trip hazards.
  • Clearly, path lighting is helpful to all.
  • Creating a curb on the paths help let the blind know where the edges of the path are.
  • Adding a railing along the path can allow folks that need stability walking some alone time in the garden.
  • Include plants that smell, sound and feel good, not just look good.
  • Adding other garden features can fill the gap for unrepresented senses like sound (plants aren’t that loud) such as: fountains, wind-chimes, mason bee houses, garden art and bird feeders to enjoy their songs.
  • Attracting friendly wildlife is both beneficial for the animal and for the observer. Providing pollinators, birds and other garden animals a home is truly inclusive.
  • Don’t use pesticides at all! If required, use integrated pest management for timed applications to not harm beneficial insects/animals.
  • Provide seating (both benches and chairs), however leave space in the same location for a wheelchair to park.
  • Evaluate plants by garden purpose. If in doubt, only use edible plants that are safe to handle.
  • Some well placed seasonal planters can bring excitement into the garden, even in winter!
  • Add some raised beds into the design to allow for folks who can’t bend down to have the flowers attainable. (24” high is an acceptable height).
  • Raised beds being used for therapy need to be manufactured at height of 36β€³. In addition, add a kick-plate to allow standing at the bed more comfortable.
  • Easy pull-type handled water spigots should beinstalled, not round knobs that are hard to grasp.
  • Lastly, it’s important to have shade, water and restrooms available nearby.

Please add any thoughts or challenges you have had either while visiting a garden or perhaps designing one to be an inclusive wellness garden.

Β© Wellness Garden Design

4 Comments on “Inclusive Wellness Garden Design

  1. Hello! πŸ™‚
    A Wellness Garden is such a great idea! I hadn’t heard of them before, but when you described sitting quietly in one and how you found serenity, it makes perfect sense.
    Here at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens there is a Braille Trail, specifically laid out for the blind with aromatic plants, railings to guide them and signs in Braille so they can find out more about the plant they can smell and touch. My kids loved to go along this trail, every time we visited. That’s about the closest to your Wellness Garden I’ve come across and it falls far short.
    I wish you all the best with this exciting endeavour. With your horticultural skills and creative ideas, I am sure you will make many gardens for those in need to find their peace. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you!
      I think most of the botanical gardens have gotten on board with some kind of wellness/healing/sense type garden. Although yes, IMHO many do fall short, even in a ‘professional’ setting. I’ve seen a few large hospitals with gardens to sit in, however I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are ‘for wellness’. They are well landscaped, however lack the je ne sais quoi of a wellness garden.

      • Yes there’s quite a difference between a Wellness Garden and just a quiet place to sit in at a hospital. Hopefully your type of garden catches on a bit more, as we all need these places to heal in. πŸ™‚

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