Inclusive Gardening and Food Growing Tips For Everyone

April 3, 2022

Gardening and growing your own food can be difficult if you have any sort of disability or physical difference that makes in-ground gardening unattainable. I love growing my own food, but my chronic pain makes it almost impossible to kneel on the ground and use conventional tools in the soil. I've found other ways to grow food at home that don't take as much effort and are just as rewarding!

For example, I try to grow only native plants in the southern United States. Native plants are much easier to take care of since they're accustomed to the weather of the area and the type of soil. This saves me a lot of maintenance time and saves me from excessive joint pain from having to do too much physical exertion.

Not everyone has the same situation I do in terms of physical limitations, some of you have other issues like limited space, limited mobility, and visual impairments. I've enjoyed getting to know the best way to grow my food without straining myself, and I wanted to share it with you.

Here are some tips for inclusive gardening, both at home and in your community. Enjoy, and happy gardening!

Gardening and Food Growing for Small and non-soil Spaces

First up are the resources for small spaces. If you live in an apartment with or without a balcony, or a house with no yard, there are ways to get some plants growing anyway. My all-time favorites are my soil-plant pot tower and the hydroponic tower which take up less space than you'd imagine. Here are a bunch of other options that you can try according to what your space looks like.

  • Balcony planters: The ones that hang on the ledge. Don't place plant pots on a ledge of a balcony as they can fall outwards with the wind.
  • Hanging wall planters: You can make your own or order an easy-to-install set. You'll need a strong wall which you can drill big hooks into.
  • Window farms: Build a hanging farm with recycled bottles, a fish tank pump and some tubing. Great for growing greens indoors.
  • Patio plant beds: If your patio has no soil, make (or get) some raised plant beds made with old wood pallets.

Below is an example of a freestanding vertical garden that can be set up on a small patio quite easily.

Gardening With Arthritis and Other Chronic Joint Pain Diseases

Let's move on to a topic that hits close to home for me. Chronic hand and back pain most definitely puts a hamper on my food growing. Along the way, I've learned a few tricks that don't make my pain worse than it is. The first tip is to wait for a day when your pain level is a bit lower than other days if you can, or choose a day that's ONLY for gardening and abstain from other excessive hand activities. Here are my best tips:

  • Elevated planter beds: To avoid bending over.
  • Don't carry too much at once: Avoid carrying heavy pots or too much soil yourself. Use a wheeled cart instead. I’ve found Gorilla Carts to be much easier to move and maneuver, plus they need less upper body strength than wheelbarrows.
  • Tools with ergonomic handles and low impact movement: Regular gardening tools have straight handles, making it easier to add to the joint pain. Look for tools with ergonomic handles that avoid putting your hands in straining positions. Look for shears that don't require a lot of pressure from your hand, some have a ratchet cutting mechanism.
  • Gloves with rubber grip: The rubber grip on these gloves takes away the pressure from your hand joints. They grip on the tools much better without your effort.
  • Container gardening: Keep things small with containers on your windowsill or elevated constructions on your patio. Small containers are easier to set up and take care of than full planter beds.

Growing Food While in a Wheelchair

You don't need to put off the idea of gardening or growing food if you're in a wheelchair. With some preparation, you'll be able to roll up to your planters and grow your own food. If you have a yard with a soft ground texture, you might need to have someone come by and pave some paths, so your chair can reach the beds easier and without bringing back lots of soil inside your house.

  • Elevated gardening beds and planters: Elevated planters without much width are the best option, that way there's less reaching for hard-to-reach plants in the center of the bed.
  • Big enough space to reach the planters: If you're setting up a bunch of elevated planters and beds, make sure there's enough space between them to be able to roll.
  • Good ground and ramps for easy rolling: You won't have any problem in a flat patio, but a yard that can get mushy in the rain could be a hindrance. See about paving some areas for your garden.

Visually Impaired Gardening

Being visually impaired in any capacity doesn't mean you can't also grow some food at home or do some gardening. You'll just need to do things a little differently. The same things you do and techniques you use on a daily basis to know where things are or what they are, can apply to gardening while visually impaired.

Here are some simple ideas that can expand to bigger ones as you tend to your own plants.

  • Scent and texture: Grow plants that have recognizable scents and textures. Get to know what herbs smell and feel like. Little by little, add more plants and get to know what they smell and feel like.
  • Short handles on tools: Use tools with shorter handles that can be used with one hand, so you can use your other hand to feel what you're doing.
  • Walkways and planters with mnemonic landmarks: Create landmarks—big or small—to map out your planters in your mind. Use them to find your way around.
  • Textured pots: For an added sensorial aid, use planters with different textures. For example, grow herbs in plastic planters, greens in hydroponic containers, flowers in ceramic pots and tubers in wooden containers.
  • Braille labels: Add braille to the labels for each type of plant in the garden.

Community Gardens

An ideal community garden is built and maintained with inclusivity in mind. So technically, all the things I mention above should be considerations for a community garden. On top of that, also consider children in every physical capacity. For example, raised beds at a lower level, visual landmarks with images as well as words.

If you're part of an inclusive community garden, make it known. Add it to the description when you list the garden in a database, website or even Google Maps.

Have you ever been to an inclusive community garden? What did you see there that made your gardening experience better? Did I miss any super important tips? Share them with us!

Dr. Dodie Arnold

As a mom, nonprofit founder, and entrepreneur, I’m passionate about leveraging my super powers to create a positive impact in our communities. I’m a passionate, multilingual, creative, public health professional with 20+ years of leadership in epidemiology, evaluation, and health policy fields. My work is centered in environmental stewardship, outdoor inclusion, and building wellness and capacity within systematically oppressed communities and organizations that serve them.