Wheelchair Gardening

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When I began developing this site I was recovering from a serious operation after a hill walking accident.

One small slip resulted in me breaking both bones in my leg and my ankle.

At the time (2012) I had only just moved to our new home on the Wild Atlantic Way and I had just begun planning and working in our new acre and a half of wild garden.

The breaks were serious and I had to have surgery so my leg could be reunited with my ankle via plates and pins.

After recovering from the operation I was confined to a wheelchair for a while before graduating on to crutches.

After that I went through five months where my walking was limited and I had to use a reinforced medical ‘walking boot.’


The process of recovery from disability to walking unaided again took eight months in total and believe me I was grateful for every step I managed to take without the aid of the crutches.

I hated those things, especially when my leg was encased in plaster.

Crutches bruise your arms and your hands hurt from holding them.

Worst of all is that because you have to keep tight hold of your crutches, you can’t carry anything.

raised bed garden sweet peas illustrating an article on wheelchair gardeningWhen I no longer needed the crutches I was thinking of planting them in the garden and growing sweet peas up them but realized I didn’t want the reminder every time I went outside.

So up they went into the attic along with the various other disability aids I had accumulated.

The worst thing about this time, apart from having to take back down all the disability stuff from the attic from a previous accident in 2007, was the pent up gardening frustration.

I had been really excited about starting work on our new garden. This was the first place we had owned together after years of renting.

Renting meant we were unable to garden the way we wished and I had built up a large collection of potted plants.

When we moved to our new home the pots filled an entire van on their own. I couldn’t wait to get them into the ground.


My late mother always used to say ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ and as I recovered I gradually found other ways to garden. Starting with planting seeds in containers on my window ledges to gradually getting outdoors.

My husband helped me to find a good place to sit outside and I found the best way to get some gardening done alone was to get him to surround me with everything I needed – pots, plants, seeds, compost and tools.


Wheelchair gardening takes a little bit of planning and you may need some help from a friend.

If you are using a wheelchair yourself I recommend finding a sheltered and warm place to sit in the garden.

I found I feel the cold much more in a wheelchair and as we are close to the Atlantic the wind here can be very sharp.

Ask someone to bring you everything you need and place all the items around your chair in a semi-circle so you can reach.

If you can, place a small table beside you to save having to reach to ground level for your tools.

You will be amazed how much you can do if you have everything within reaching distance.


I found that even just to get my hands in the soil again was pure bliss and I began planting and potting from a seated position.

It took a while to get the hang of it but after a while I established a routine and learned by trial and error the best places to position my stuff.

To be honest, I found being immobilized quite depressing, mainly because I like to be busy and to do things for myself.

Losing my independence changed the way I felt about myself and I hated that feeling of not being able to just do exactly what I wanted to do – when I wanted to do it!


However, I am lucky enough to know that my loss of independence is only temporary.

Being able to work with plants and soil is the best therapy I know of and I highly recommend doing some form of gardening if you are disabled or recovering from illness.

Getting your hands dirty and creating something from nothing is a pure tonic. I wrote more about my own experience in early 2013.

I was careful about my diet and ate very little meat. Instead I ate a lot more fish, our own free range eggs and vegetables.

I drank lots of water and herbal teas made from my own herbs, freshly picked from the garden.

I also did sitting and lying down exercises to stop my muscles from getting weak from lack of use.

Gradually, I got better and was able to resume gardening with a bit more energy.

Soon I was walking around the garden, digging and planting. However, I never really recovered enough to resume hill walking – something was still wrong.

view over fields and sea in Galway to illustrate article about wheelhair gardening
Our love of hill walking was one of the primary reasons for moving to our new home.

We are situated on the Wild Atlantic Way and are very close to the beautiful hills of the Burren in County Clare, so this was very disappointing.

Prior to my accident I had undertaken walks of up to fifteen miles a day.

But now I could only manage to walk a couple of miles before severe pain under the ball of my foot slowed me down to a halt.


As any walker will tell you walking a couple of miles in the Burren only serves to give you an increased appetite for walking.

The pure beauty and drama of those Burren hills and trails pulls you in further and further and it is frustrating to have to stop.

I visited my G.P. and frankly was very disappointed with his attitude which was: ‘well why don’t you use a stationary bike to get your exercise?’

Resisting the temptation to tell him where he could stick his stationary bike I referred back to the surgeon who had performed my original surgery.

The surgeon suggested physiotherapy combined with orthotic inserts for my shoes.

This worked at first but after a couple of months the pain came back.

The only option left was surgery to shorten and repair the damaged bones in my foot and a second procedure to repair some damaged muscle in the calf of my leg.


So, being a bit of a procrastinator I put this off and put this off until very recently when I realised it would be far better to have the surgery behind me than before me – that operation had been hanging over me like a black cloud.

When I finally got round to it the surgery went very well. I am recovering quickly too, but of course at the moment I am using crutches and am unable to do what I like, which as you know, is to garden.


All is not lost, as a good friend told me about her experience hosting ‘Workaways’ and I signed up on the site as a host.

Workaway is a site where you can register as being able to provide food and board to a visitor from abroad – in exchange for 25 hours work per week.

I advertised for help with cooking, housework and gardening and have been lucky to find several ‘workaway’ volunteers who were willing to come and stay with us over the period I was disabled and they helped keep the garden under control.

Today our volunteer was outside sowing wildflower seeds into the fertilized patches left behind as we moved our chicken tractor.


In the meantime I am starting to hobble around a bit on my crutches and I spent time outside planting, peas, beans and some lavender and honesty seeds in pots for growing on in the green house.

By the way there are some great tips on gardening from a wheelchair on the Eartheasy site.

Being indoors all the time can be so depressing but just to be able to do a small amount of gardening is a joy and it breaks the monotony of indoor life.

I am sure this has helped with my fast recovery.

It also ‘keeps my hand in’ and gives me something to look forward to as I watch my little plants grow over the coming months.

The knowledge that the volunteers have kept the weeds under control, started some new veggie beds, planted some young trees, and kept the whole garden from turning back into its original wilderness state has taken away a lot of pressure and worry.

Instead of dreading the coming growing season I now can’t wait for it to arrive.

Happy gardening.











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