Garden paths provide access and often presents the first and most pervasive obstacle for anyone with a disability. Inclusive design is not just for public spaces, parks and commercial properties. Making your garden more accessible for a friend with a wheelchair or a family member that is getting older and have less stamina and mobility and doesn’t see very well, needs just a little thought and planning when adding new structures or refreshing old ones.
The most inclusive pathways are wide, not too steep or curvy, have no steps and are made out of even non-slip surfaces. Unless your garden has a particularly steep gradient, adding a path that is accessible to everyone does not cost more, take longer to crate or require more in-depth planning than otherwise. Here are the vital points to incorporate when adding or updating your garden path.
Dimensions and style
Width: 0.8 – 1.2 metres to allow single file wheelchair access, space for guide dogs, crutches and walking sticks. Extend the width to 1.5 metres for longer paths to allow two people to walk next to each other as well as two-way traffic.
Turning circles: 1.2 – 1.5 metres is needed to turn a wheelchair around.
Stopping points: Create seating areas and resting points next to paths, particularly near feature points where people will naturally want to stop and look. Leave some space next to any seating for wheelchair users or push chairs.
Ramps: Use ramps as well as steps if at all possible. If you need to add ramps, make sure that they comply to building regulations and are not too steep, have a landing at the bottom and top and is safe to use.
This is not a how-to guide, but a quick overview of how to lay a path that withstand heavy use.
- Design, plan and measure: Think about where you want the path, check that it doesn’t curve, rise or drop too much and measure it out in place.
- Excavate: Dig space for the under layer(s) and materials to end up with a ground level path.
- Hardcore compacted surface: It is possible to leave out the hardcore, but that will remove the stability from your path and allow it to dip, shift and effect its durability.
- Sand: The sand layer is what keeps the surface material in place. Don’t use just any sand, buy the correct type for the project.
- Edging: Choose a high contrast edging material to make paths easier to navigate and see.
- Surface material and edging: The top layer is what is visible and the best materials to choose is brick, paving slabs or concrete.
- Planting near the path: Make sure that plants do not obscure the path at any height level. Avoid branches across children or wheelchair user’s faces as well as adults walking.
Use reclaimed materials to cut down on the cost or to create a path that looks older and well-worn.
Stepping stones are the most cost effective and easy to do option. Although solid surface paths are easier to negotiate and maintain, it is possible to create an accessible path with stepping stones. Make sure the stones are placed at an easy to walk distance apart, is level with the turf and adjacent stones and that the path is wide enough to accommodate everyone. They can be laid on sand alone and in addition, the path can be done at increments as ability, time and money allows instead of having to be completing in one go.
Paving stones/concrete slabs
Concrete paving stones is a cost effective and practical material for garden paths. Select paving stones with a rough but level surface to allow for grip without creating a tripping hazard or making it hard for wheelchair users. Line them up with no gap to create smooth continuous paths or space them out a little with grass in between to save money on cost and create a different look. Some grass is not a problem as long as the paving stones are level with it. Make sure that they are level and create a smooth, continuous surface.
Brick paths are porous, level but provide traction and drain well. Laying a brick path can be expensive, but is it durable and when done well, will sustain heavy use. It needs to be layed on top of a compacted gravel bed otherwise it will subside with regular wheelchair use. For occasional wheelchair use, it is possible to skip the hardcore and lay it on sand instead, both cheaper and easier to do, but the path will not remain level with frequent or heavy use.
Pourous concrete is another good surface material. Brush it before it sets to create a rougher surface that will provide traction for wheels and think about adding colour to avoid glare on hot sunny days. It is not the most cost effective option and concrete is laid on a hardcore surface as well that adds to the cost and complexity, but it does create level, grippy paths that drain well in wet weather.
Gravel paths are cheaper than brick or concrete, but the gravel has to be compacted to work for wheelchairs or reduced coordination and balance. Thick gravel is never a good choice, but a thin layer added to a compact sand path can work very well. This is not the type of path frequently seen in small gardens, but I have seen it used for inclusive walking and cycling routes in the countryside.
Tarmac is easy to maintain, but not very aesthetic and gets very hot in the summer. Wood decking is smooth, but slippery when wet. Avoid using stones, thick gravel, bark, chippings and turf.