Noblesville West Middle School Garden Club and HCSWCD Partner to Develop Accessible Raised Garden Beds
Andrew Fritz, Urban Agriculture Conservationist
Accessible raised beds are important for persons with physical disabilities and for the elderly but also for anyone who has limitations in movement. But building a raised bed to accommodate all needs is difficult. For example, the raised garden bed must support a lot of weight especially when the soil is wet. It must be deep enough for roots to grow. It should allow for persons in wheelchairs to not only fit underneath the raised bed but be able to reach across it as well. And then, of course, it should last for more than a few years by delaying rotting while avoiding treated lumber for food safety purposes.
But this is a challenge that Emily Crapnell, Noblesville West Middle School science teacher and Garden Club sponsor, reached out to the HCSWCD urban agriculture program for assistance in 2018. The Garden Club, started in 2013, was in the process of a renovating their garden space which now required raised beds with some of them being accessible.
A traditional accessible raised garden bed (like this one) tend to rot or sag within a few years and do not allow for a person in a chair to reasonably reach all areas of the garden. Other raised bed options were cost prohibitive, like the Terraform Wheelchair Accessible Garden. Furthermore, the VegTrug, regretfully not discovered until this year, has a biodegradable permeable liner that allows water to come into contact with the wood. This means that the liner would need to be replaced meaning the soil would have to come out with it. This is cumbersome.
With no other viable options to meet our needs, we decided to design and build one ourselves. After some searching, we discovered accessible raised beds from the Sedona Winds Assisted Living Healing Garden, which became our primary source of inspiration. The design was contemporary, clean, and used sturdy construction that would appear to hold up over time. Conversations with Sedona Winds indicated that they were a success, too.
After conceptualizing by hand, the design was imported in SketchUp to help us visualize how users could interact with it.
The materials being used varied in size to achieve the look we were hoping for. We avoided using treated lumber and used only food-grade plastics (HDPE) to line the trough of the bed. The bottom of the trough would include a drainage pipe to decrease water-logging and, therefore, weight. Furthermore, the design would be fitted with irrigation.
Additional Model Images
Constructing First Raised Garden Bed
Together, we built the first bed to work out any kinks. Ideally, the project would require at least two people. And, if you had to build more than one, you could do so easily by cutting two (or more) of everything you needed.
The finished beds look and function as planned! Should you choose to construct something similar, consider the following recommendations: