How to garden when you can’t garden

Enjoying the garden

There is so much more to gardening than actually getting in there and getting your hands dirty (fun as that is!). There is planning, monitoring, learning from mistakes and of course, enjoying the garden!

Not being able to garden when you want to is extremely frustrating but, as I have said before, you can’t go round being annoyed all the time, you have to make the best of it. Yes, we could convert the garden into lots of raised beds, reachable from a wheelchair but that isn’t going to happen. We like the garden how it is, and we will like it even more after some more tweaks!

As with all projects, it’s always a good idea to think in advance about what you already know that will help and what resources you have to call on. You probably already have a good idea of which plants and flowers you like and which work best for you. If you are new to the area where you live, you could always have a look at other houses orientated the same way as yours and see which plants are thriving in which position, at least in their front gardens. There are, of course, lots of books and online resources to help decide which things to plant and how to look after them. I like the Hessayon ‘Expert’ series and have also found plant finder websites to be useful for finding a plant for a specific place. Resources also includes people: it’s great fun to have a chat with other gardeners about what works for them and to share your own tips (rather like this!)

The next stage is to work out what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there. Planning also means you don’t end up having to move plants after you’ve put them in place: we managed to plant something that needs sun in the one place in the border that doesn’t get any, so it had to be moved as did something short that we planted behind something that turned out to be taller than expected – I probably hadn’t done enough research in advance!

The next stage is monitoring: the day-to-day tasks of weeding, deadheading, watering and general nurturing which, as I can’t do them, I have to remind my under-gardener to do, but he’s getting the hang of it!

The final stage is assessing what you have achieved. Of course, the garden is an ongoing thing, it’s never ‘finished’ but, maybe in Autumn, it’s worth thinking about what worked, what didn’t and why and what you would do differently next time.

Enjoying the garden
Enjoying the garden

I find that even though I can’t really join in with the physical work in the garden, there are many other aspects of gardening which I can!

Rowntree Park looking lovely!

Rowntree Park

Roses, lupins, clematis, goslings… there’s plenty going on in Rowntree Park!

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

It looked more well-tended than sometimes when we visited the other day and, as ever, the mix of tree types is very striking: copper beeches contrasting with the greenery. There have been some improvements in the pathways, various uneven bits have been smoothed.

Love the contrasting colours!
Love the contrasting colours!
Goslings, Rowntree Park
Goslings, Rowntree Park

There are always plenty of interesting things to look out for. On our visit there were goslings, moorhen chicks and ducklings and all the installations which make the park so varied such as the duck house on the pond, the ‘chess-piece’ horse that small children love to scramble on, the totem pole and the helmet. There is of course, the more traditional play equipment and the skateboard park and there is even a boat selling ice creams across the river!

The ice cream boat!
The ice cream boat!
The Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge

I used to always use my scooter when we went to the park, but actually my Powerchair handles all the surfaces absolutely fine, even the slight bump at the flood barrier.

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

Lovely as The Homestead is, you can make a longer visit at Rowntree Park because of the paths by the river. These are a little rougher than the paths within the park and the cycle path heading out of town is rather bumpy with tree roots but not too bad. I understood that was going to be fixed, perhaps it will be soon.

Riverside paths
Riverside paths

It’s always a pleasure to visit Rowntree Park and the riverside paths.

More accessible places to visit.

Powerchairs are liberating

The ramp!

I recently read an online article in which someone with MS said that they dreaded “ending up in a wheelchair.” It made me feel rather sad and I left a comment to the effect that using a wheelchair can actually be really liberating.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

It’s not that I don’t empathise with that feeling: even though I had been using a scooter for a few years, I was really upset at the thought of having to get a wheelchair. I should have remembered how wonderful it felt the first time I went round our local park when I got my Luggie scooter – after being a regular visitor to the park, as my mobility got worse we had stopped visiting it, so going there again after some years was really exciting.

Always improvements going on at Homestead Park, York

Realising that I was going to have to start using a wheelchair felt like yet another stage in the process of having no mobility at all. At that point, I was using my scooter to get to my office from the car, to get around at work and to visit places such as the park or the out-of-town shops. You can’t conveniently use Luggie scooters to sit at a desk or table and they are not comfortable to sit on for any great length of time, so I would transfer onto my office chair or the ‘teacher’s’ chair in the classrooms at work, but this was becoming increasingly tiring and quite tricky as the chairs were used by other people and might have been left at a raised height – it’s really difficult to lower an office chair if you aren’t sitting on it! I would sometimes ask a student to lower it for me but even so, I’d be nervous that it would shoot out from behind me and deposit me on the floor! Luggie do actually do a Powerchair now, but as it is even heavier than the scooter, I’m not sure how practical it would be.

The ramp!

We organised a home demonstration of an Eden Mobility ‘Comet’ Powerchair and once it became clear that I would be able to use it to sit at a desk, I realised that this was the way to go: no more worrying about transferring onto an office chair or struggling to get round the house leaning on the furniture and Pete’s arm. Fortunately, it’s narrow enough that you can get through ordinary doorways that haven’t been widened so we didn’t have to adapt the whole house, although we did get a slope put in up to the front door by Passmore who also did some of our bathroom alterations but many of our doors do have scrape marks on them now!

The ramp!

The front door threshold would have been problematic, but Pete cunningly built up layers of vinyl floor underneath the carpet to create a gentle slope so I can move in and out of the house with barely a jolt.

We may have to make more adaptations in the future but for now, I love that I can get round the whole house and now, thanks to Pete putting in a slope instead of some steps in the garden, the whole of the garden, even on the lawn when it’s dry.

Terrace and gardens, Parador de Argómaniz

I would prefer to be able to walk but given that I can’t, a Powerchair is a whole lot better than struggling around or not being able to go places.

Valley View, Thatch Close Cottages, Llangrove, Herefordshire

York’s most beautiful park: now less bumpy!

Homestead Park, York

Decided to give Homestead Park a go with my power chair rather than my scooter. I had my email to the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust half written in my head, asking if they could make the crazy paving a bit smoother and found that they have done exactly that: the pathway near the pond that was a bit rough going is now tarmac like most of the rest of the paths – hooray!

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

I still emailed them, though, to enquire if the surface of the car park could be improved as it is really bumpy and they promptly replied to say that they are looking to improve it, so good news all round for those of us who like a smooth ride when possible.

Circle Garden, Homestead Park, York
Circle Garden, Homestead Park, York
Celebrating 800 years of York as a city
Celebrating 800 years of York as a city

It was a lovely, sunny day so the park was being very well used: the children’s play area seems really popular and there were plenty of people admiring the gorgeous flower beds.

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

There always seem to be improvements on the go. During our last visit, they were replacing the trees on the Cherry Walk and these were in bloom and looking lovely. There was a guy in waders clearing the pond and plenty of other staff generally tending the place, which is always immaculately kept.

Always improvements going on at Homestead Park, York
Always improvements going on at Homestead Park, York

Great to know that they are committed to improvements in accessibility as well as in horticulture!

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

Here are some other accessible places to visit.

Big skies and accessible hides

Lovely sunshine on our last morning!

It was rather chilly for outdoor exploring during our stay in Norfolk but the views from the car were magnificent! The North Norfolk coast is completely different to that of North Yorkshire, west of Sheringham it flattens out and there are no cliffs or rocky coves but lots of shingle beaches, sand dunes, marshes, wetlands and that huge, huge sky.

Church Farm Barns, Bircham Newton, Norfolk
Church Farm Barns, Bircham Newton, Norfolk

This was our second stay at Norfolk Disabled Friendly Cottages (now called Church Farm Barns), this time in The Little Workshop, a fully accessible cottage for four. Last time, we booked Stable Cottage but because of a problem with the heating, we were upgraded to The Big Workshop which had a lovely view so this time we booked the smaller next-door cottage in order to benefit from the same view which Stable Cottage doesn’t have.

Great view from The Little Workshop
Great view from The Little Workshop

All the cottages are accessible and of different sizes and there is plenty of equipment such as hoists or a profiling bed which the owners will hire out to you if required. The owners are really helpful and Lavinia makes a point of coming to welcome you and check that everything is all right.

French windows
French windows

Despite the name, The Little Workshop is really spacious with plenty of room to move around. Not quite perfect, however, as it’s not possible to sit at the dining table in a wheelchair but, as in Normandy last summer, we raised the legs on top of books which makes the table rather high but at least you can sit at it. Another small gripe would be that all the pillows were really thick ones: I ended up using a thin cushion instead as I couldn’t possibly have slept with my head on such a high pillow! Also, the mattress could do with replacing when they update the cottage: it was a little bit like hammock-like! I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or a disability thing, probably a bit of both, but I find it increasingly difficult to cope with different domestic arrangements. Our house isn’t perfectly arranged, but at least I’m used to it and feel more confident there. Different furniture arrangements, positions of grab rails etc take a bit of getting used to. Sad, but true!

Easy access to The Little Workshop
Easy access to The Little Workshop

There was also an issue with getting out onto the patio as the threshold was rather high and there was a bit of a dip where a drainage grid had been put in which had maybe sunk a bit. We had found something similar with the Big Workshop, but with that cottage, you can exit through the front door and come around the side but this isn’t the case with the Little Workshop. We mentioned this to Lavinia and somebody brought a bit of board which we could put down to form a bridge between the rather high threshold, over the drainage grid and onto the patio itself. We tried it the next day and despite some overnight rain which had warped the board a bit, it worked a treat!

Access to the patio sorted!
Access to the patio sorted!

Another brilliant thing is that the cottages are really cosy, so unlike many of the quaint, old cottages we’ve stayed in, although I don’t see why they couldn’t be made to be as cosy as this as well!

We arrived on Friday and as I said, the weather was rather cold so on the Saturday we set out for a drive along the coast, heading first for Cromer then driving westwards past Sheringham then we came across the Cley Marshes Visitor Centre which looked like an accessible place so we decided to check it out. It strongly reminded us of The Sill, the National Landscape Discovery Centre that we visited this time last year in Cumbria as it was built in a similar style with plenty of wood and glass and a ‘living roof’ and designed to be sustainable and accessible.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre
Cley Marshes Visitor Centre

We managed to resist the cakes in the café, but they did look rather good! It’s run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and has a shop and café in the main building, accessed by a lift (one of those rather basic ones where you have to hold down the button as you go up or down) then there was a separate building with information about the work of the Trust and another building that was a hide with telescopes/binoculars that you could use although they were either too high or in front of the bench so accessing them from a wheelchair would have needed a bit of manoeuvring. There was also an exhibition in there by a local artist.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre
Cley Marshes Visitor Centre

We continued on to Blakeney where we stopped for a pot of fresh seafood. I don’t think I’ve done that for years so it felt rather nostalgic! We continued on past Wells, past Burnham Overy Staithe and Brancaster then slightly past the turnoff back to the cottage in order to check out Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve which we thought we might visit the next day.

The weather continued to be rather iffy but we fancied more fresh air so the next day we did go to Titchwell. The staff were very helpful and explained that most of the path was slightly better than the path between the car park and the visitor centre which was indeed the case, not too bumpy and some of the way round there were boardwalks but most of the way was a rather rough path (failed to get a photo of the path, unfortunately). However, as it was starting to rain we decided to call it a day which was just as well as it started to chuck it down on our way home. Apparently, there are accessible hides at Titchwell but we didn’t make it that far!

Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve
Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve

It is, of course, really frustrating not to be able to go for a brisk walk and explore places like we used to but I can’t live my entire life being irritated by that situation or it would be miserable, so I just have to accept that we have to curtail what we do. Many of the visitors to Titchwell were all geared up for bad weather but I think even if I was completely able-bodied we wouldn’t have wanted to walk around in the rain anyway!

Nowadays, we usually choose accommodation with good views and this cottage has them in spades: the windows are huge to take advantage of them and it was fun spotting (and hearing!) the oystercatchers which live round about. We also wanted to feel like we had had a relaxing time, especially as my work is slightly stressful at the moment, so it was lovely to not check even ‘home’ emails but to read, do puzzles, listen to music, chat and just generally chill out.

Lovely sunshine on our last morning!
Lovely sunshine on our last morning!

The Monday when we left, the temperature was due to reach about 20°!

As ever, different accessibility adaptations suit different people, but if the facilities at Church Farm Barns suit you, then I thoroughly recommend them as they are generally high-quality accommodation, even the ones which haven’t been updated yet, and the staff are really welcoming. They have improved their website as well which has information about accessible things to do locally.

For more information about accessible places to stay, see my other reviews.

Wish list for wheelchair accessible hotels

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

These are all the things I’ve thought of but I expect there are more.

Outside

  • Plenty of Blue Badge parking bays with hatching on both sides
  • Forget dropped kerbs, have smooth transitions between surfaces with as few bumps as possible
  • Automatically opening doors where appropriate
  • If possible, a covered drop-off area outside main doors

Reception area

  • Low reception desk or at least a lowered portion (and not tucked around the side where it can’t be seen)
  • Seating (normal height and with arms, such as tub chairs)
  • Clear signage
  • Accessible toilet

Rooms

  • Wide doorway (if there is a spy hole, there needs to be one at a lower level too)
  • Wide access to both sides of bed
  • Any chairs should be normal height and with arms, such as tub chairs
  • If there are alarm buttons or cords, they should be on both sides of the bed (it should not be assumed which side of the bed the disabled person will be on or it may be that the room is occupied by two disabled people)
  • Facilities such as kettles, hairdryers etc should all be within easy reach for a wheelchair user
  • Bathrooms should follow industry guidelines and rooms with both right-hand and left-hand transfer toilets available
  • Toilets should not be the highest possible, but seat raisers should be available to borrow if necessary
  • Roll-in shower area
  • Fold-down shower seats and grab rails in shower area
  • Lower-level mirrors
  • Consider having lowered or lowerable basins

Restaurants

  • Tables should be designed so that a wheelchair user can pull right up to them without having to transfer to a dining chair
  • Plenty of space between tables
  • Chairs with arms available if required

General

  • Staff should have disabled awareness training
  • Wherever possible, doorways should not have a lip to get over

Other accessibility issues

  • Menus should be available in large print
  • If there is piped music, consider having a quiet area in the restaurant or sitting area
  • Contrasting colours on walls and doors and edges of steps
  • Equipment such as chair or bed raisers, vibrating alarms etc should be available

 

Parking space, La Cour de Rémi
Parking space, La Cour de Rémi