Universal design and gardens

A public garden with brightly coloured flowers and plants set around a water feature. Universal design and gardens. COVID has shown us how important gardens are to everyday life. Whether it’s a home garden or a park garden, they are good for our wellbeing. But not all botanical and park gardens are accessible to all. Applying the principles of universal design in gardens in the planning process is a good way to go. 

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has a guide to applying the principles universal design in gardens. Including people with disability in the planning process is, of course, essential. Gardens can be beneficial to people with disability especially if there is good visual and tactile information. 

The ASLA Guide lists some design aspects to consider:

    • Choose a seasonal plant palette that emphasises seasonal change 
    • Circular or figure-eight paths, which are good for people with dementia who are likely to wander
    • Frequent, flexible seating with arm and back rests throughout the garden. Seating that is light enough to be moved encourages social engagement.
    • An obvious inclusion is to limit the level changes, but where they are necessary they should be well signed with multi-sensory wayfinding.
    • Toilets are a must and should be located within easy line of sight, not hidden. Clear signage throughout the garden is also a must.
    • Secluded areas are also helpful, not just for people with autism or other cognitive conditions, but for private contemplation. 

There’s more detail on the ASLA website on this topic with some useful case studies.  

Community and botanical gardens are a place of relaxation and enjoyment. They provide an opportunity to experience nature. There are many physical and mental health benefits to experience nature. Applying universal design principles in the planning a design process allows many more people to enjoy the benefits of a public garden.

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