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Garden adaptations to increase elderly accessibility

1st May 2019 Print

Recent findings from the Office for National Statistics has revealed that Britain officially has an ageing population. By 2039, one in every 12 of us will be aged over 80, and one in three babies born in 2013 are expected to reach 100 years of age. 

With ageing comes reduced mobility and potential impairments, which can cause a whole host of challenges in later life. With this outlook, it’s important for everyone to consider how accessible their home is to older people – whether it’s for family or to safeguard your home for your own aging process. 

Being garden proud is not an uncommon sentiment in the UK. It’s a space to relax, cultivate or have guests over for summer parties – but as you age, it often becomes a point of pride as many get into the hobby of gardening. From decking boards to raised flower beds, there are plenty of ways to increase accessibility in your outdoor space.    

However, as we age, these spaces can become less accessible. In 2007, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) released figures that showed there were 115,000 garden falls, slips and trips reported a year. Whether you’re future-proofing your garden against your own aging, or making your garden as accessible as possible for elderly guests, here’s how to do it:

Heightened beds

For many elderly gardeners, kneeling to reach the growing areas is a common issue. For wheelchair users a raised bed, which is between 18-24 inches high, is perfect. For those standing, building a larger planter that is around 30-36 inches high eliminates the need to bend down. If planning for wheelchair access, you’ll need pathways that are at least 3-4ft (91-121cm) wide. They should have enough room on all sides so that gardeners can reach the centre.

Time to relax

By placing resting areas around your garden, you can provide a space to relax for yourself or for elderly visitors. In smaller gardens, this could be a bench or two. In larger areas with more planters and flowerbeds, you could add stools, or kneeling areas to allow elderly people to work on flowerbeds. 


Any pathway between a grassed area or planters shouldn’t be hazardous, and this can be avoided by selecting a flat but slightly rough material. Flagstones and slabs are good options, but best laid with a slight slope or close butted to allow water to run off. Tarmac and concrete are both cost-effective and low maintenance but aren’t visually attractive for a garden. Avoid cobbles, as they can be trip hazards for all ages. Replace any steps with non-slip ramps where possible, supported by handrails. 

Decked areas

Decked areas can provide a sturdy base for elderly people to relax on, and they are an ever-popular feature in many residential gardens. Decking is low maintenance, stable and if you install certain types of decking such as enhanced grip boards, which minimise the risk of slipping, they’re perfect for creating a ‘living space’ in a garden. Low-slip decking can help reduce the risk of slipping, which is the leading form of accident for all age groups in gardens.

A simple railing could provide an essential feature for accessibility, as it can help with unsteadiness or poor balance in elderly visitors – but a qualified joiner or handyman should install any rails though, to ensure that they are fit for purpose. 

Decked areas can also be brilliant ways for elderly people or wheelchair users can garden with raised planters and flower boxes, which also make the space more appealing – this cuts down the growing time for plants, and it doesn’t require the same level of maintenance as fully grassed areas. 

Grab rails

A handrail is a great accessible solution in elderly gardens. They should be placed, at a minimum, near any changes in level, steps or ramps. They should extend to 850mm above step nosing or ramp surfaces and should also be at least 1m over landing. Generally, rails are most comfortable when they’re not too narrow or wide to allow better grip. 45-50mm is a rough rule of thumb for their circumference. 

Flowers and plants

Sometimes, gardening can become more of a strenuous task as we grow older, but it can bring a lot of benefits to the life of an older person – such as improved mental health to mobility and fitness. For that reason, you can’t rid a garden of the flowers and plants in the name of safety. Instead, strike a balance between beauty and safety by using hardy plants that can withstand the seasons with very little maintenance. 

By taking precautions and planning, a garden can become accessible for all ages– whether you are looking to meet your own accessibility requirements, or you are catering for elderly family members, you will have future-proofed your garden as Britain’s population continues to grow older.