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Disability gardening tips from a green-fingered blogger

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Guest Guest | 12:10 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2012

Niki Preston

Niki Preston is 4 foot 9, mobility impaired and, owing to a lack of digits, describes herself as having two green fingers. She keeps a personal blog chronicling her horticultural exploits.

As the long weekend approaches, here she shares some of her gardening top tips that work for her and could do for others with a physical disability.

Nifty kneelers

If you find it difficult to kneel or have trouble getting down and up again, or you struggle to lean forward to tend to raised beds, give my system a go. It consists of a kneeler for your knees, with a slightly higher stool to lean on directly in front. I use the stool to lever myself down and back up again whilst leaning on and over it to dig, plant and weed.

If I didn't lean on something, I would simply end up head first in the pot. Not the best look.

Pesky pruning

I used to leave all pruning to my husband but envied the satisfaction he got from chopping things down. Then I discovered some tools which work for me.

Traditional secateurs are impossible to use, so I now have some cordless electric ones. Bigger than ordinary secateurs and slightly heavier due to the battery, they are activated by a trigger which I can pull with one finger as I steady them with my other hand. The device has a large semi circular blade which drives down onto a fixed blade, cutting easily through the branches of small shrubs and trees.

When deadheading flowers, most people pinch the heads off with their fingers. As I don't have many (fingers), I use a tiny pear of deadheading snippers, which have a spring action so that they open by themselves and involve less effort with the hand when snipping. Genius!

No watering cans required

Hydrating my plants independently is tricky. Watering cans have always been a big no no and while I know that blue badge owning disabled people are exempt from the ban, hosepipes are also a bit too heavy for me to carry around. So I invented the 'wheelie good watering system'.

Niki's watering system

It involves a 10 litre garden sprayer, the type used for fertiliser, and a funky shopping trolley on wheels. I just pop the sprayer inside the trolley bag, fill it up, pump the handle to build the water pressure and hey presto, an instant watering system that I can just pull or push around the garden.

I can even reach high enough to water the hanging baskets myself for the first time ever, which is a real treat for me and them.

Retreat to the shed

Usually, a potting shed is set up so that the gardener can stand at a table to sew seeds. I am unable to stand for long, so got around this by finding a particularly flexible chair. It's a height adjustable pink office chair on wheels, to be exact.

When sitting down on it: compost, pots, trays, trowels - and my cuppa - everything I may need is within easy reach and I can spin round to get things that are behind me. Plus, because I'm sitting down, there's no back ache or hip pain.


I used to have a problem when all my treasured seeds were ready to be moved from the potting shed to a cold frame outside. Cold frames look like a mini greenhouse with a lid. You can buy very expensive ones with legs, but most sit directly on the ground.

I have short arms and so can't reach to put trays of seeds down at ground level without dropping them and everything falling out. I hate asking for help, so this became a big frustration.

My husband solved the problem with a couple of large shelf brackets. Now my cold frame is perched at a height where I can comfortably place my trays of seeds inside it without having to bend down.

You can buy special disability friendly versions of most gardening items, however, I've found that adapting what you already have is much cheaper and, because it is personalised, the result often works better too.

I hope you have found some useful ideas here. Gardening is great exercise and being outside tending to my plot, pots and veggies, lifts my heart. If you love your garden, there's always a way to keep on keeping on. Give it a go, you'll love it!

• Read News from the Potting Shed, Niki Preston's gardening blog.

BBC Gardening: How to be a gardener

How does your garden grow? Access in the greenhouse and vegetable plots can be a very personal and individual thing as we all have differing needs. Add your own top disability gardening tip to Niki's list in the comments below.




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