Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Tips for Senior Gardening 3 – Pathways, Don’t Fall this Fall by Carol Russell and Nance Tucker

Concrete pathway, photo by Donna Duffy
After being diagnosed with a degenerative disease that affects balance, my first question was “How will I be able to continue gardening without falling?”  I found that garden accessibility starts with paths. Accessible paths allow for increased mobility and safety of movement throughout the garden. I went to the garden and wandered down a path: my typical walkabout. Was the path easy to walk on or was I paying more attention to where I placed my feet rather than smelling the roses? Edges in the garden are hazardous. A flagstone pathway is much more treacherous than a flat cement path.  

Also, places to pause are an integral part of pathways.  Did I need to sit down to appreciate a beautiful flower or a combination of great perennials? I should consider this location for a bench. Is the pathway cool as a result of shading? 

Grass Pathway in Osterley Park, England, photo by Carol Russell
Pathway design
Here are some tips to keep in mind when designing an accessible landscape that welcomes everyone (Universal Design):
  • Eliminate steps between the house and patios and porches for easy access;
  • Handle grade changes with gently sloping ramps and pathways rather than steps;
  • Ramps and pathways should not have more than a 1:12 slope; a 1:20 slope is best; and
  • Make garden pathways at least 36″ wide to allow for easy walker or wheelchair passage.
  • Railings can provide a hand hold for stability. Those without slats provide balance while also allowing access for weeding.

Open railing, Mill Creek, Utah, photo by Carol Russell

Pathway Specifications 
Another source for pathway design is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.  Although it does not apply in your own garden, basics of universal design for accessibility are good guidelines to follow:

  • Garden paths should be smooth but provide good traction;
  • A level walkway to the garden is preferred;
  • Slopes greater then 5% (a one foot change in elevation per 20 feet of walkway) are difficult to maneuver with a cane, walker or wheelchair;
  • If stairs or steep slopes are not avoidable, wider stairs with lower risers and handrails should be provided. Ramps should be added if possible; 
  • All paths should be 36 inches wide with turning points of 60 inches (diameter); 
  • If the path will be used by a wheelchair gardener, edging will help prevent wheels from slipping off the path and sinking into soft garden soil; 
  • If it isn't possible to make paths wide enough for turning a wheelchair, consider leaving a wide turn-around area at the end of the path; and
  • If people need to work between garden beds to access either garden bed, be sure that the space between these two beds is also at least 36 inches wide. 
ADA Pathway, Photo by Carol Russell
Path Construction Tips - Surfacing Materials for Paths
The ideal garden path will need to have a hard, yet water-permeable surface that wheels can roll over easily. Some garden sites have had success with fine gravel surfaces or wood mulches on pathways. 
Generally, the following materials provide firmer surfaces that are more stable:

  • Crushed rock (rather than uncrushed gravel)
  • Rock with broken faces (rather than rounded rocks)
  • A rock mixture containing a full spectrum of sieve sizes (rather than a single size)
  • Hard rock (rather than soft rock that breaks down easily)
  • Rock that passes through a ½-inch (13-millimeter) screen (rather than larger rocks)
  • Rock material that has been compacted into 3- to 4-inch (75- to 100-millimeter) thick layers (rather than thicker layers) 
  • Material that is moist, but not too wet, before it is compacted (rather than material that is compacted when it is dry)
  • Material that is compacted with a vibrating plate compactor, roller, or by hand tamping (rather than material that is laid loose and compacted by use).
Japanese Garden Path Construction, Denver Botanic Gardens, photo by Carol Russell