009: Benefits of a Well-Designed Garden

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
009: Benefits of a Well-Designed Garden

Show Notes

Here’s a link to the article I discussed in this episode. The section on OTs collaborating with a landscape architect begins on page five.


[00:00:31] Hey everyone! It’s Sarah and welcome to episode number nine. Today I’m sharing about how the design of the outside of a home impacts the ability of people to do the specific tasks of gardening and yard work. This will help you understand how individual needs and the design of the environment results in either a good fit or a poor fit. It’s the little things that make a big difference. 

[00:00:55] In universal design, a lot of focus tends to go toward the inside of the home, and rightly so. We spend so much time there.

[00:01:03] However, we can’t just stay inside all day and having a functional space outside is essential too. One of the additional pieces of owning your own home is keeping up with the outside work and maintenance and landscaping. 

[00:01:17] Kristen, one of my friends enjoys being outside and doing yard work. Their family lived on a farm and prior to her accident, in which she lost her leg, she spent many hours outside planting the garden, raising chickens and sheep and tending to her growing herbs, vegetables, and flowers. She also had kids and they were all over the place playing and running around. Kristen uses forearm crutches to get around outside and has a wheelchair she propels inside. 

[00:01:46] Her large garden and flower beds were all on the ground. Learning to walk with one leg and forearm crutches is difficult enough, but getting up and down from the ground is even harder. Plus when you’re using forearm crutches or any crutches, your hands are really not available to carry items when you’re moving around because you’re actually moving the crutches with your hands. 

[00:02:10] The farm proved to be too much for their family to manage and they decided to downsize and move into a suburban neighborhood with a flat yard that still gave her options for planting. By building some raised beds she basically brought the ground up to her, so it was easy to reach the dirt and tend to her garden. 

[00:02:29] Because she could easily stand, hop and scoot, she found that by placing a piece of wood across the raised bed, allowed her to climb up on the wood and use it as a bench on the raised garden. This allows her to sit on a solid surface and work right in the garden. The wood is also easily moved to wherever she’s working. 

[00:02:49] They placed a tightly packed gravel path out to her raised beds from the house, and they also connected it to their shed. They really had to consider the type of material they used for the path to make it easy for anyone to move around. Some people choose materials that aren’t as user friendly for wheels or for people who struggle with balance. You’ve seen it before. Pavers separated with grass, dirt, or gravel makes it hard to roll anything across the path as a wheel could get stuck or someone could trip themselves up based on an uneven surface.

[00:03:25] By choosing the tightly packed gravel, it allows Kristen to easily get out to the yard using her forearm crutches or using her wheelchair depending on the task at hand. She typically carries her supplies in a pail when walking or she gets her kids to help out with bringing her supplies. She’s pretty successful doing the task this way, but the path does create versatility for the use of a wheeled cart or if she or someone else needs it as well. 

[00:03:56] In addition to their raised beds, they put a nice big shed in the back of their yard to keep tools and other equipment organized and handy. By building a gently sloping ramp up to the shed, it makes it easier to get things in and out. The no-step entrance was helpful for her and for anyone in the family who was pulling out the lawnmower to mow the lawn.

[00:04:17] They also wired electricity out to the shed to make it easier to see doing any type of task, as well as putting small lights on the pathway to help reduce shadows as well. Doing yard work and planting vegetables and flowers can be very rewarding and a stress reliever. These tasks can also invoke large amounts of stress if they’re frustrating to do or there isn’t an easy way to do them.

[00:04:43] As a kid, I remember how many hours my dad spent out in the garden, tilling it, watering it, and gathering veggies. It was a labor of love, but lots of work. It was also very satisfying to eat everything that he made out in the garden. 

[00:04:59] The neat thing about raised gardens is that they can be big, small, or in interesting configurations. They can be designed at different heights so someone can sit underneath it as well as have it cantilevered out over their legs so it’s easier for someone to pull forward right underneath the garden to plant things facing forward versus having to turn to the side, which makes it uncomfortable. 

[00:05:23] In an essay written by a fellow OT, Amy Wagenfeld, she and a landscape architecture professor provided an interprofessional collaborative experience in which students in landscape architecture worked with herself, as the OT, and their landscape architecture professor in constructing a healing garden at the Puget Sound VA Fisher House, which has onsite residences for families whose veteran is undergoing treatment through the department of veterans affairs, the VA. 

[00:05:55] They transformed a concrete suburban space into a garden that promoted healing for those who experienced wounds through war. The article discusses how collaboration is essential to get all of the elements just right by meeting the physical, social, and emotional needs of those using the garden and to design it well with appropriate materials and aesthetics. 

[00:06:16] I’ll link the article in the show notes for you to get a better picture of how the collaboration occurred, which is so very important to get a good fit. But my point in bringing this up here is to discuss the outcome. The article quoted the reaction by one of the clients: “As I passed into the healing garden, I got a strange warm feeling, like warm hands surrounding me, and I felt calm and protected. When I need peace and calm when I need to be engulfed by a sense of warmth and love, I know to go to the healing garden and spend some time”. 

[00:06:48] We all need a space that can do that for us, whether it’s outdoors or indoors, we need a place that invokes peace and calm in our stressful lives. I’m so glad my friend Kristen has been able to find a little bit of calm out in her garden as well.

[00:07:03] Thanks for listening to this latest episode and I really look forward to sharing more universal design tips with you in the future. Bye! 


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