Access to the Garden

Brenda Parent with son Alex. Photo courtesy Parent.

Accessible gardening is unique because it takes into consideration the needs and abilities of all participants

From the tranquil expanse of a South Carolina home bursts forth a diverse garden of flowering shrubs, blooming hydrangeas, and drapes of colorful spireas.

Vibrant annuals and perennials border footpaths while pineapple guavas are lost in a limitless rise of fragrant tea olives, climbing roses, and ornamental grasses.

This botanical oasis is not only beautiful; it’s completely wheelchair accessible and is the handiwork of Brenda Parent, a C5-6 incomplete quad who has taken her passion of gardening to a whole new level.

“I always enjoyed getting my hands dirty in the garden,” says Parent. “I grew up helping Dad in our backyard garden and spent many weeks each summer at my grandmother’s farm in North Carolina.”

One of the many little creatures who enjoy Parent's accessible garden. Photo courtesy Parent.

Those experiences, coupled with a strong desire to share the benefits of gardening helped pave the way to her online blog site, Access to the Garden.

Parent started blogging primarily out of the frustration she personally felt concerning advocacy and accessibility in and out of the garden. Parent became a disability advocate very quickly following her 1983 accident after realizing most of the area had yet to comply with the Rehab Act of 1973.

Oddly enough, South Carolina had the first accessibility laws in the country dating back to 1963: yet, like so many other people with disabilities, Parent continues fighting accessibility battles.

To strengthen her cause, she became a certified ADA coordinator and works as an access consultant specialist for any entity interested in becoming compliant with all access laws.

“I can’t do anything without considering access, whether it’s within my own personal garden or in public,” says Parent. “My blog has become more or less an online journal regarding my activities within any garden, and my involvement with access.”

On her blog site she not only describes what she’s doing as a gardener but also as a gardener with a disability. Many people see her as just a gardener, but what she’s doing and how she’s doing it is important information for those who believe they can’t garden; that’s all the motivation she needs to help encourage others to pursue their passions.

The blog is also a means to reflect on the physical and attitudinal barriers she often encounters in life. Something as simple as attending a plant sale can impose unnecessary stress on an individual when the event coordinators fail to take into consideration the location of the sale and the needs of all of the potential customers.

Accessible gardening is unique because it takes into consideration the needs and abilities of all participants in a garden, going beyond physical access. In a public garden Parent looks for certain criteria, asking one simple question: “Can everyone equally enjoy the garden?”

Other accessible indicators include:

  • Does the public garden offer aromatic plants for people with visual impairments to enjoy?
  • Are there raised flowerbeds included on accessible routes for people with mobility disabilities?
  • Can someone get to the garden from the closest bus stop?

For the accessible home garden, Parent suggests designing your garden to allow easy movement around the yard. Consideration has to be extended to the grading, irrigation, and walkways. She also suggests planting in raised beds and containers to reduce fall risks and make working with your plants more accessible and enjoyable.

For Parent, gardening has been a life-long love affair that continues to blossom while providing that much needed pause from the sometimes hectic burdens of life. “I love the ability to grow anything, says Parent. “Whether it’s a flower or a vegetable.”

“My eventual goal is to focus on nothing but accessible gardening and access to public gardens,” says Parent. She also hopes to publish a book in the near future and is working toward becoming more sustainable by growing her own food.

Other articles on Brenda Parent can be found here:

Tuesday Talk with Alex

Fine Gardening


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