“There must be a seating area, somewhere to relax after a hard day.” I had a similar thought when re-designing a section of my garden. Being a garden designer I hear this phrase a lot, but being in a wheelchair means that I have to think about seating in a completely different way.
According to the English Federation of Disability Sport there are 9.4 million disabled people in England, 18% of the population, of which less than 8% are in wheelchairs; that’s 752,00 people. And the majority of impairments are not visible. Yet, why are RHS and other public gardens, horticultural events, National Trust properties, parks and communal spaces so bad at catering for people with disabilities when it comes to seating. There are, of course, other things such as: disabled toilets doubling up as nappy-changing quarters – please stop this; poor signage; inaccessible sections of gardens or buildings because of steps. The list is very long, but the more articles I right the more I come across as a moaning pest – this is far from the truth; I always try to smile, enjoy what I can and be thankful for my caring partner and my absolute passion for gardening and creating gardens for other people to enjoy.
But, getting back to bums on seats. More often than not dining tables are too low for wheelchairs to get under, or seats are so badly designed they do not support those people who can either transfer to another chair or just want to relax. Arms on chairs are good for some people, but a real problem for others. When it comes to benches garden designers love finding something different – and I must confess I have done this on occasion – but the benches are either hidden for that secret kiss behind the hedge, or face something worth looking at. Where am I supposed to sit? I end up in my wheelchair facing the people on the bench who are admiring the wonderful view. Please can the horticultural world take note, make space next to a bench for a wheelchair, walking aid, or even better have a gap between benches so that I can sit shoulder to shoulder with my partner and friends and comment on how wonderful the view is. Also, if in doubt add more benches. It’s easy to do, but it is so easily forgotten.
We’ve all read in the newspapers how sitting for too long is bad for the health. We need to be more active. That’s all well and good, but when your legs and feet are tired, having walked around a large public garden, for example, you really do just want to sit down for a few minutes. There is plenty to see and you arrived nice and early so that you can spend the whole day at your destination, so sitting down and breathing in and smelling the air, absorbing the atmosphere of the place is just as important as seeing a floriferous border for the first time. I would argue that every place has its own ambiance, from a busy city garden with the honking of horns in the background to a secluded garden surrounded by countryside, with the sound of the wind through the trees and the knock-knock-knock of a distant woodpecker. Yet there seems to be inadequate seating or benches. There must be some research somewhere that can tell us when we need to sit down, after a certain amount of activity, dependent on age, but is there such research for people with disabilities?
So, with my great intentions to create an accessible garden with seating areas scattered around the garden I shall think hard about what is needed, how it will work for me in my wheelchair and for my partner. The areas need to be part of the garden with requisite seats and spaces for my wheelchair, but they need to be thoughtfully designed so that they blend with the landscape. Just because I am disabled doesn’t mean that design needs to be compromised. When finished I too will have somewhere to relax after a hard day.
Every landscape is different but when LgMM gafden designer Mark Lane was asked to design a large private MBNHK garden for someone with access needs Mark’s personal circumstances made Mark Lane Designs the perfect choice.
Mark’s personal experiences, knowledge of and expertise for fully accessible gardens, whether for a private dwelling or for a public building, such as hospitals, disability charities, specialist units or rehabilitation centres, were brought together to create a “contemporary wild” garden.
The design focuses on access needs with full wheelchair turning circles, wide paths and views across borders, sometimes obscured, sometimes fully open, but creating a landscape that is fully inclusive.
A large stepped granite water feature is the centrepiece of the garden, influenced by the incredible water feature outside the Louis Vuitton Gallery in Paris.
Each angle has been measured to suit the incline of the site and designed by Mark to reflect the sun as the water cascades down. Small flecks of silver in the granite sparkle enhancing the clarity of the water.
Mark is the UK’s first recognised garden designer in a wheelchair and has been published in numerous journals and magazines and has gone on to be the first BBC gardening presenter in a wheelchair.
Mark’s practice Mark Lane Designs collaborates closely with architects, designers, artists, sculptors and craftsmen on a wide range of projects, to provide an individual, friendly and professional service offering high-quality, bespoke garden, planting and landscape design for small private or largescale public projects, an intimate little garden or a landmark outdoor facility.
Mark’s ethos is to create a garden or landscape that is a direct response to the architecture, topography and character of the landscape – a sense of place and space. His designs are functional, in-keeping with the surrounding environment, the wild space and its natural flora and fauna; building on integrated structures and the spaces between, in and around them.
The planting is full and abundant. Over 5,000 plants and 3,000 bulbs have been planted to create colour, texture, form and scent for 12 months of the year. Planting is loose and informal, but the planting plans have been carefully put together by Mark to give an almost wild experience – as if the plants have self-seeded across the garden.
Large bold blocks of colour have also been introduced, but following the Client’s aspirations the borders have been divided into: herb garden, blue and yellow garden, white garden, pink garden and a grasses garden. Mark is a plantsman and wherever possible chooses plants that are as close to the species type as possible.
He looks at the surrounding plants and the local environment and creates a landscape specific for an individual site.
Building in layers Mark’s landscapes comprise shrubs and trees, herbaceous perennials and grasses, climbers, bulbs, corms and rhizomes that work together.
Hidden white LED lighting illuminates the landscape at night making the garden appear to float.
Influenced by the colours and flora of the Kent countryside for this project Mark has created an enticing and exciting landscape, and although designed for access needs it is foremost a garden with a sense of place and space.
The answer is simple – yes! Yet why do we not see more show gardens designed by the physically disabled, the young, the elderly, people with learning difficulties – in fact anyone who has a passion for gardening.
I am a garden designer, and I am in a wheelchair. I love designing gardens that are accessible to ambulatory and to disabled people. So why do I come across so many gardens with awkward steps, narrow paths, small turning circles for wheelchairs, disabled access around the back normally by the bins and not through the main entrance?
I stopped working in London due to ill health 10 years ago, but having published books on horticulture and loving everything about gardening, even being outside in the pouring rain assisting with bulb planting, I decided a career in garden design was for me. There are physical limitations; I am only able to do little, but often, a term known as ‘pacing’, which helps me greatly. Yet, while managing my disabilities I’ve not come across a recognised garden designer in a wheelchair. Why? I have a trusted partner who runs around with a tape measure and contractors to help with construction and planting.
The horticultural industry, and the main players such as the RHS and the National Trust need to open their eyes; so do the plethora of gardens open to the public. Gardening and horticulture should not have barriers and restrictions. We all know and have read about how gardening can improve the physical and mental well-being of people – I am living proof. Without gardening I would be a different person.
I wrote to Dan Pearson and Cleve West and their friendly insights mobilised me in to action. My aspiration is to have a show garden at Chelsea, but who will sponsor me? Who within the world of gardening will embrace a garden designer in a wheelchair? The world of gardening/horticulture needs to open its eyes to everyone, and not be selective. Beautiful gardens and show gardens can be made accessible to all, it just takes a different perspective.
I was born in Hertfordshire but grew up in Brighton & Hove. School was not an enjoyable experience. Whilst I didn’t struggle academically and was always at the top of the class for just about everything, my only salvation was in music and art.
A keen flautist and artist from a young age, I steered towards architecture and horticultural therapy as a profession but went on to study Art History at University College in London instead. I continued playing the flute and became principle flautist for the university orchestra.
After university I went into publishing and worked my way up to the managing editor position at a leading international arts publisher. It was at this time that my car accident curtailed my career and I had to review the life I had and what I enjoyed and how I was going to go forward in this new position.
With my love for gardening and art background, I decided to study landscape design. As a child, I had followed my grandparents around their large garden with string, a pair of blunt scissors and a small fork and trowel tie in the clematis and runner beans, deadhead the roses and sow seeds. I have a sneaky suspicion that Grandad cared for the seeds when I wasn’t there as I was always amazed at how well they had grown.
I spent a long time at RNOH following a car accident 17 years ago. Amongst my many therapies, I met a wonderful horticultural therapist who told me that I had to go forward and to champion being in a wheelchair. After a four-year rehabilitation, I left the RNOH and I started looking for horticultural courses and visited many schools. If I was shocked at the terrible layout of the campuses and limited options for someone in a wheelchair, I was horrified to be told that they would not be able to validate the course because I wouldn’t be able to do the physical side of the course, for example, dig holes and complete site surveys. With a strong and dogged determination, I looked online and found a suitable Open Learning course.
Even as an established garden designer, I have had to explain to clients that I have help to undertake physical side of site survey and digging. Sometimes I have bad days which mean I will be unavailable but every client has been welcoming and understanding. Finding something as meaningful to me as garden design, has really helped remove the spectre of depression that hung around my shoulders after my accident. Of course I still have down days but with the right medication I know I can continue, albeit at a managed pace.
To help me negotiate muddy sites, I have two all-terrain wheelchairs to help me. At home I have a height adjustable desk and a wheelchair desk chair. Other than that, I suppose the biggest adaptions I have made are from within. I am more determined, level headed and passionate about what I do. In a strange way for me, becoming a wheelchair users full time has been positive. I probably would not be where I am today if I had carried on my publishing career.
My first professional commission was a large garden for a lovely retired headmistress, whose brief was low maintenance; it would help with her physiotherapy and be a joy to look at 12 months of the year. I designed two circular lawn areas with a pathway wrapping around the two in a figure of eight.
I have not looked back from taking my first nervous steps as a garden designer. After designing numerous gardens, I started writing articles for magazines and which were picked up by a BBC research team. This opened the door to my BBC presenting work. Whilst I do not class myself as a celebrity, it is surreal watching myself on TV and people asking for photographs and autographs. I have thoroughly enjoyed the presenting work and hope it continues for years many to come. More importantly, if someone with a spinal condition sees me doing TV work, undertaking landscape designs then all the better. Hopefully it will inspire others to get on with their lives.
I was honoured to be asked to be the Health, Wellbeing & Community ambassador for Groundwork, a charity which focuses on improving communities by addressing environmental issues and improving deprived areas of the country by either building, redeveloping or maintaining green sites. Thrive, a gardening disability charity to which I can relate to, bestowed the title of ambassador to me, and centres on positively changing lives through horticultural therapy.
I am where I am today because of the very wise words of Linda Exley and Viv Williams, RNOH horticultural therapists. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom and encouragement – it would be great to see you again. I owe so much to the RNOH and their incredible staff.
Over the past couple of years, regular viewers of Gardeners’ World on BBC2 have become familiar with Mark Lane’s friendly and insightful reports from fantastic garden spaces around the UK.
On the long-running TV show which marks its 50th anniversary this year – Lane can be seen enthusing over beautiful wildflower planting schemes, and demonstrating how easy, or difficult, it is to manoeuvre his wheelchair around the gardens.
“Doing the show has been a wonderful experience,” he says. “The crew are amazing, and the presenters have all been so down to earth and welcoming.
“But the whole horticultural industry is like that; everyone’s very helpful, even if they’re in competition with each other at a big flower show such as the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) show at Chelsea. People who work with plants and in garden design all absolutely love it, just as I do.”
Yet, despite a love of flowers as a child, Lane had never intended to be either a gardener or TV presenter.
“From a young age, I followed my grandparents around their gardens,” he says. “I had a little trowel, a blunt pair of scissors and a little blue cart that I’d pull around the garden. They were the ones who taught me about plants. My paternal grandfather told me how and when to plant vegetables, and loved his sweet peas and clematis, and we grew cress on the windowsill. My maternal grandmother had a garden full of roses and the scent was beautiful. I was fascinated by it all.
“I grew up in an apartment in Hove near Brighton, and we didn’t actually have a garden ourselves. We did overlook the South Downs, though, and could be on the sea front in 20 minutes. I loved the countryside and I would draw and paint plants and butterflies.
“I had an aptitude for it, and it led me to study art history at A-level, and then at University College London. I loved it. Then, after university, I went into
publishing – I did medical publishing and financial publishing, and, finally, arts and architecture publishing.”
That career in publishing seemed mapped out, but change was to come.
“I met Jasen, who’s now my civil partner, and we moved from Greenwich to Kent, near Ashford, to a house with a larger garden. We felt very lucky. B&Q needed a garden makeover for a book we were working on. I said they could do mine, and that I’d already done a design for it – and it got published in the book. This, to a small degree, is where my career in garden design started.”
Lane was born with spina bifida, but says that “apart from balance problems and having the occasional stumble” at this point in his life he was walking and active. Then, he was in a car accident.
“That was 17 years ago now,” he says. “The result, after a lot of surgery on my spine, and because of my spina bifida, was that I ended up in a wheelchair. You go to dark places, and wonder what you’re going to do. I certainly couldn’t commute to my job in London any more, and that meant I had to give up publishing – which was a problem, because I absolutely loved it.
“After a long rehabilitation period, my partner, family and friends convinced me that I could do something with my knowledge of plants.
“I looked for garden design courses at universities and colleges, but at the time the set-up for access for disabled people was diabolical – I was told by many places I couldn’t ever get a diploma because I couldn’t do the physical side of it. I eventually found an open learning course online that accepted me.
“Mark Lane Designs was set up 10 years ago. At first I was doing work for friends, for free, to build up the business portfolio. Then, in recent years, we were getting paying clients, and I decided I needed to get the message out that disabled people can do landscape design too. I started writing articles about my experiences with access, and one of these was published in Gardeners’ World magazine. Later, the BBC rang me up, out of the blue, and asked if they could send a film crew down to what they call a ‘piece to camera’, with me showing them plants in the garden.”
Lane says he dismissed that first TV appearance as something of a one-off, but then he received another call.
“They asked if I’d cover the Chelsea Flower Show for them,” he says. “I thought it was a joke – this was the creme de la creme of flower shows! But my motto these days is ‘never say no’, so I went along and did it, and I enjoyed it, too. The crew were lovely and wanted to wrap me in cotton wool at first. I told them just to treat me like anyone else, and that I’d tell them if I was tired or in pain.
“It went really well and got good viewer feedback. I was invited back to cover the Hampton Court Flower Show, and then to do a piece on Gardeners’ World itself. Then, at the end of last year, I got a call to say I would be a full-time presenter for the show in 2017. Doing the TV work is great, but I still love the design work – I love plants and meeting people every day. It’s been a wonderful journey.”
Lane’s work with clients now involves designing large private gardens, which he says are often better from a wheelchair user’s point of view, plus small gardens, and sensory gardens for hospitals, hospices and charities.
“If I was still working in London, gaining access to small urban gardens might be difficult for me,” he says. “But I’m also about to get myself an off-road wheelchair, which I’m really looking forward to, and which will help tremendously with my job. “Around 20 per cent of my clients are disabled, but whether they’re disabled or not, I always explain to clients that they will hopefully want to use their gardens in years to come, and that with age comes all kinds of infirmity and sometimes chronic conditions. It’s always worth thinking about how easy it will be in future to get around your garden.”
For Lane, accessible design means creating a garden that everyone can enjoy. His list of considerations is lengthy and goes well beyond flat, firm paths. For example, he says raised beds for wheelchair gardeners can help, but not if they can’t reach and twist. What about tables with plants on, that you can get your knees under? What about getting long handled tools? What about suitable turning spaces for wheelchairs?
“Every disability is different. Chairs are different,” he says. “Then there’s the problem of glare and silhouetting for visually impaired people. Could you use tactile materials, or plants that indicate that they’re in a certain part of the garden through smell? You need to understand what the individual’s requirements are. What are they sensitive to? From here you can build a picture of the garden design.”
Lane also says that not having a garden doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy plants.
“Try herbs on your windowsill or window box. You can even have spring bulbs for your windowsill – little daffodils and beautiful cyclamen. The way I explain the indoor environment is to think of your house as if it’s a woodland. It’s shady under the trees, with not much sunlight.
“You can try woodland plants indoors – ferns, for example. If your window is in scorching sun, think about Mediterranean plants such as small lavenders. Google it, look it up and give it a go.”
Whatever the space, Lane’s passion for plants shines through. It’s a sunny, positive sense of enjoyment that reflects a wider worldview:
“I think being in a wheelchair has changed my life for the better,” he says. “I’ve heard other people in similar situations say the same thing. It has completely changed my outlook. If I can show that just because you’re disabled or in a wheelchair it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give up, then that’s great. Sometimes it means making a leap of faith, which is what I did – but I haven’t looked back.”
The new magazine of Manchester City Disabled Supporters Association, Access 4 Blues, has just been published showcasing Mark’s work, as well as his passion for showing how the word ‘ability’ in disability can be used in a positive way.2018-02-03 - Access 4 Blues Winter 2018
Designing gardens for people with limited mobility and varying levels of ability, both physically and mentally can sometimes be a challenge. Everyone’s ability is different. It is therefore so important to get the design of a garden or outdoor space right from the start. This involves talking with the Client and, without being too personal, getting to know what they can and cannot do.
As a landscape and garden designer I need to get inside the Client’s head and understand what it is they require, for how long, choices of materials, plant selection, and then ensuring that the project runs to schedule, on time, and within budget.
I design gardens and outdoor spaces for private Clients, charities, organisations, hospitals, companies and local government across the UK. There is a real fun element to every project, as not one site is the same, and not one Client is the same. Everyday there is something new, either to learn or pass on.
Gardens and gardening are essential to our physical and mental wellbeing. The outdoors has a calming effect on our bodies and our innate need for greenery and fresh air is known as biophilia or the biophilic effect. Just 10 minutes a day in a garden can reduce blood pressure, slow down our breathing, relax our muscles or stimulate them when working in the garden.
I am also delighted with my new role as a BBC TV presenter on Gardeners’ World and for the RHS Flower Shows. I love writing and sharing ideas with people. I think it is important to give something back too, which is why I am an Ambassador for 3 charities, Greenfingers, Groundwork and Thrive. I have also just become Patron for Core Landscapes, a charity that transforms unused urban spaces into temporary gardens for the community to use and share.
F U L L MEMBER
Mark is the UK’s first garden designer, published gardening writer and BBC gardening broadcaster to be in a wheelchair. Mark is also an Ambassador for Groundwork, Thrive and Greenfingers, and patron of Core Landscapes. Mark is a regular speaker for the horticultural industry.
Kent garden designer and TV presenter, Mark Lane tells us how his passion for plants helped him turn the car crash, that meant he became a full-time wheelchair user, into a positive spin, launching a whole new career and way of life that feeds his creativity
You can never know what life has in store; events that can seemingly spell disaster can sometimes have a silver lining that isn’t obvious at the time.
Seventeen years ago Mark Lane was enjoying a successful career in publishing in London, until a car crash which led to him needing spinal surgery, which was unfortunately complicated by being born with spina bifida, resulted in him being unable to get around without the use of a wheelchair. This meant Mark couldn’t commute to work anymore. “It was devastating,” he recalls. “I really loved my work in arts and architecture publishing, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I don’t mind admitting I found myself in a very dark place.”
After a long period of rehabilitation, throughout which his partner Jasen, and family and friends were incredibly supportive, an idea for a totally new career sprang to life from a chance conversation in the garden one day. “Jasen commented on what he called my encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and casually said: ‘I don’t know why you don’t do something with it on a professional level, it’s a shame to waste it.’ He had sowed the seed of an idea, if you will excuse the gardening pun. As a little boy I had grown up pottering with my grandparents in their garden, I learned so much about plants and gardens from them, it was a passion that developed as I grew up,” says Mark.
“Using Jasen’s comment as a springboard, I started to investigate the possibilities of getting horticultural qualifications and considering careers in the garden design industry. I have to admit this was a very frustrating period one that tested my resolve. It seemed impossible to find a college that would allow me to study with them because I was in a wheelchair; the inference was that I would not be physically able to do certain things, so I should just give up on the idea. Instead of finding positive ways of making it work, I came up against negatives. Eventually I found an online open learning course and I’ve never looked back.”
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Mark set up Mark Lane Designs 10 years ago. At first he designed gardens for friends for free, building up his experience and portfolio, and it wasn’t long before larger and more lucrative projects arrived.
“I have a wide range of clients from private property owners through to schools, hospices and charitable foundations. On-going projects are varied, a basement garden in London W2, to a 10-acre garden in Leicestershire. So far, I have never had to turn a job down because of access problems because of my wheelchair where there’s a will, there’s a way! I recently took delivery of a special ‘off-road’ Segway wheelchair, that’s going to make rough terrain a lot easier. I live in Kent, just outside Canterbury, I love the local countryside and am very happy here. My work takes me all over the country, including a major project in Ireland at the moment. I’m very lucky to be so busy.”
Surprise call from the BBC
Talking of lucky, Mark’s career took another unexpected turn a couple of years ago.
“I had been championing the cause of disabled gardening, trying to highlight the difficulties of accessibility for people with physical disabilities. An article I had written on this was published in BBC Gardeners’ World magazine. I was surprised to get a phone call from the BBC asking if they could record me doing a piece to camera on the accessibility issue. I happily agreed – and what followed were more invitations to cover RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows for them, and then the offer of a more permanent slot on BBC Gardeners’ World TV show.
“I really enjoy the presenting work, it’s another way of keeping disabled gardening in the spotlight and I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way. The last 17 years have been amazing, with many ups and downs, but it just goes to show with a positive attitude and the right kind of help and support, you can get to where you want to be and have a fulfilling life and career.”
Garden designer Mark Lane takes us on a tour of his outdoor space and explains how a few simple tricks mean it can be worked and enjoyed by all.
None of us is getting any younger, but that doesn’t mean we should be banished to the sofa with a TV remote in our hands, only getting up to pop to the toilet or to make ourselves something
to eat. Gardening and green spaces improve our wellbeing physically and mentally. Being
in a wheelchair myself and very close to celebrating the ‘big 5-0’ has meant my practice of gardening and my garden-design work have been adapted to assist me and to make things easier. As soon as I get outside I feel the stresses of modern life lifting. There are times when I just stop and look at the planting combinations, the spaces created in and around the plants, and the wildlife that they attract, but being a very keen gardener I always find jobs to do.
When people start hearing or reading that adaptations need to be made for disabled
gardeners or older generations, visions of concrete ramps, ugly railings, raised beds
and tired or unusable spaces come to mind – well, they do for me. There are, of course,
some very good adaptations and these should be applauded. But in some ‘adapted gardens’ I’ve seen, I think the designer or company involved should have really spent time in a wheelchair to see how difficult easy tasks can be.
I’m very lucky and have just under an acre of garden, which is my playground for trying out new plants and planting combinations. When we moved here, though, the garden was stuck in the 1970s with island conifer beds and large areas of lawn. The first consideration was the grass. For someone in a wheelchair or less able-bodied, grass is like ‘green ice’. You never know what it
is like underfoot. I decided that the garden design for the front part of the garden, which is about a third of an acre, should have no grass at all. Removing it was a massive task but, no matter what size the garden, the lawn can invariably be pulled up. So what do you replace it with? Flat, level, firm paving slabs are the obvious choice and can range in price from a couple of pounds per slab to several hundreds. However, paving a large area is sometimes impossible. Drainage
is also a very important aspect to consider when paving areas. Water should drain away easily with no puddling. Also, the width of the path is extremely important. For wheelchair users, the best width for a domestic path is, in my opinion, 120cm. This allows space either side to control the chair.
For more ambulant people, a width of 120cm to 140cm is ideal. It means that people with, for example, chronic arthritis, who may need the support of someone’s arm will find the path is wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side. Another important tip is to make turning circles
large, with no over-hanging plants to get in the way. Also, the transition from the house to the path should be easy. We had to raise the level outside, keeping in mind the damp course of the house, and a small portable threshold ramp bridges to the door.
Gravel paths are a real problem for the disabled, less able-bodied and people with visual impairment. Gravel-stabilisation products work well by holding the gravel in honeycomb-shaped interlocking panels, but after a while, the thin top layer of gravel migrates and you can see the honeycomb shapes. It does need ‘topping up’ every few years, but it’s a good substitute for paving. Self-binding gravels are good because they provide a level surface, as long as the
subbase is firm and correctly laid.
For any path the essential elements are a firm stable subbase and good edging. A different material can denote the edge but simple gravel boards are a cheaper option. I have left them proud where they meet flower borders so feet and the wheels on my wheelchair can feel the edge of the path. In my garden, we topped the gravel boards with fence capping to create a small lip, under which a continuous white LED strip light has been fixed. I am at a lower height than someone standing, and the hidden lights illuminate the pathways without blinding me. At night, the borders appear to be floating above the pathways.
I’ve also introduced a raised bed at the top of the incline, using new pressure-treated softwood sleepers. These have straight edges, which tie in with the contemporary feel of the garden. They are secured in place with long wooden posts that are cemented in, as they need to hold back a substantial amount of soil. For me, the raised beds are 70cm high, but they can be made as high
or as low as you need them. (Please note, if they are above 1.2m it is worthwhile asking the opinion of a structural engineer.) The softwood sleepers may need to be replaced in years to come, but some companies offer 25-year guarantees on their products. By this time, I may well have decided to change the garden. That is the beauty and excitement of gardening. A garden never stands still; styles and ideas change; and new products tempt me to have a go at something new.
Raised beds are a good idea for people in wheelchairs because the ‘garden’ is brought up to a workable level. However, for people who cannot twist their bodies, raised ‘tables’ are a better option. They allow someone to sit under the structure (such as a normal dining table) and plant or sow from an easy position. There are limits on what can be grown because the soil will only be 15-20cm deep, but this is deep enough for alpine plants, small bulbs and corms, and cut-and-come-again lettuces, radishes and beetroot.
Tools for the tall plants
Another trick I have used in my garden is to grow plants of various heights with some taller plants, such as milk parsley (Selinum wallichianum), verbena (Verbena hastata Alba’), Canadian burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis), sneezeweed (Helenium ‘The Bishop’) and ornamental grasses, at the front of borders where I can get at them.
Whenever I’m in the garden I always carry with me long-handled tools and a ‘reacher grabber /pick-up stick’ (a long-handled tool with a claw at one end). I use the grabber to pull a plant towards me, then either my secateurs or shears to deadhead and prune. So, no matter what your physical ability, there are some easy techniques and tools that make gardening and your garden a pleasurable experience.
I have also planted a low hedge of privet around some of the borders, which is the right height for me to trim from my wheelchair. Currently, I am able to hold an electric and battery-operated hedge trimmer (or shears, if I’m feeling adventurous) and cut only those parts that I can get to safely. I leave the rest and the larger hedges to either my partner or my landscapers. Hedges
really are a good thing for a garden and the wildlife. They give structure to a garden throughout the year and winter months, especially if they are evergreen or semi-deciduous. They also provide feeding, foraging and nesting places for insects, birds and mammals. For me and my
‘contemporary wild’ garden, they accentuate the straight lines of the paths while holding back the wild planting within the borders.
It also goes without saying that water in a garden is a must-have. We live on a busy road and the sound of running water helps disguise the noise, and our water feature looks great and helps wildlife, too. The trick to any cascading water feature is to get the height right so it doesn’t sound like a horse relieving itself. Placing pebbles or stones at the base helps break up the fall of the water, and they also help insects and smaller mammals to drink from the water reservoir.
Clients always worry about water if they have children, so self-contained water features are a good alternative. There are some good ready-made horizontal metal grilles that can be placed over water, which can then be topped with a decorative stone. A feature of some kind can then be put on top and the water pumped through. Even ponds can have grilles put in place, with
3-5cm of water above. (Although not really designed to take the weight of an adult, they
will help protect children, but they must be installed properly by a qualified person.) Water brings another element to the garden and heightens the experience. Cascades stimulate the senses, while gently trickling water relaxes the body and mind.
For disabled, less-able and, in fact, any gardeners, seating is important and there needs to be lots of it. I have my own permanent seat, but there are times when I like to transfer to a wooden bench just to see the garden from a different position and rub my hands over the grooves in the wood. The raised sleeper beds are just the right height for my partner and friends to sit on, and in the front garden alone I have two wooden benches and two sets of tables and chairs. When buying a patio set, always try it out in the shop beforehand, especially if you are in a wheelchair, as table heights vary considerably. Also, check the arms on the chairs, if they have any, and make sure they are firm, stable and comfortable to lean on when sitting and standing. If you find arms on chairs difficult, ensure the chair is heavy enough to take your weight when using the
back and seat to lower yourself down. Sit in them for a couple of minutes and wriggle around a bit. If they move too easily and you rely on using the chair to sit, look elsewhere. The choice of tables and chairs is a personal thing, but shop around, try them out and check that they have good guarantees.
A place in the shade
Alongside seating, shade of some kind is essential, either in the form of a tree, a building or purpose-made structure such as a gazebo and a pergola. Clients always ask me what the difference is, so I describe a gazebo as a free-standing roofed structure, normally made from wood, with open sides on to the garden, opening up views across your lawn and borders. (A garden room or sun room is the same, but the sides are usually closed off with some windows and a door.) A pergola is a shaded walkway made from wood or metal, which is generally used
to train climbing plants up and over the structure. In my garden, I use the shade of a silver birch, which gives us dappled shade throughout the day, as well as a purpose-made green oak pergola. I’ve planted evergreen ferns along the shadiest side of the pergola, and have started growing espaliered fruit (peach, apricot and pear) on the sunny side.
Sitting on top of the pergola are some photovoltaic cells, which are in sun all day, so we can generate our own electricity – extravagant, I must admit, but I like to be as green and as organic as possible.
So, whatever size your garden and whatever level of physical and mental ability you may have, get out there and enjoy your garden, allotment, roof terrace, balcony or hanging baskets – even your local park.
Sometimes you need to think outside the box, but I strongly believe there is a solution for most things. Disability should not stop you from gardening. Research across the UK has shown that green spaces have a sustained positive effect on us and our well-being. Without gardening and
garden design I certainly would be a different person today.
The BBC Gardeners’ World presenter tells CHRISTINE FIELDHOUSE how he found his life’s purpose after surgery left him confined to a wheelchair.
To the millions of viewers of of BBC Gardeners’ World, renowned landscape designer Mark Lane has become a familiar face in recent years, presenting the long-running and much-loved show
alongside stars such as Monty Don and Carol Klein.
But few know the obstacles the broadcaster, 48, has overcome in order to get where he is today.
Read more Mark, who recently presented coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show, was in his mid-30s when he “Looking back, I’d had a strange gait from when I was a child,” he says. ” I dragged my feet and ” I did yoga as a teenager and at university because I had some lower back problems but spina Spina bifida occulta is thought to affect between 10 and 20 per cent of the population but most people don’t know they have it as there are usually no symptoms. It can be discovered in adulthood when patients have X-rays or scans for other conditions. It can cause various problems including weakness or total paralysis of the legs, incontinence and loss of skin ” I discovered that about three per cent of people with spina bifida occulta go on to have lower back and peripheral nerve problems,” says Mark, who lives with partner Jasen, 52, in Canterbury, Kent. “That’s what happened with me.” In 2006 Mark underwent the Wallis ligament procedure. An implant was inserted between the vertebrae but within days it was clear it hadn’t worked. “The surgery didn’t do anything at all,” recalls Mark. “Soon after, I started getting peripheral nerve sensations across my body. From my toes up to my head, it felt as if someone had plugged me into an electric socket. “It was a very quick deterioration after the operation. Within a month I had a gradual loss of feeling in my legs. The consultant had warned me the operation would either work or make it worse. I felt as if someone had put bricks on my back. I could barely move at all.” Mark had returned to his work as a publisher part-time a month after the operation but within a few weeks he was in too much pain to carry on. Four months later he was also diagnosed with myalgic encephalopathy (ME). ” I could no longer get upstairs at our three-storey barn. If I tried to exercise, I was bed-bound A month later, again disaster struck when Mark was involved in a car accident. ” I didn’t need ” I had a period where I was unable to get out of bed, unable to do anything,” explains Mark. ” I Mark and Jasen, a computer programmer, moved to a bungalow near Canterbury, Kent, where they had a bigger garden than they’d had before. Mark, who was being treated for depression and by then using a wheelchair, found he was happiest when he was outside in the garden. “Jasen pointed out that I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and he suggested I did something with it,” says Mark. “It was true. I’ve always loved plants.” He was accepted onto an online diploma course in horticulture which he passed with flying colours in three months. ” I loved every element of it,” he laughs. “Having a purpose lifted my spirits. It was as if a little match inside me had finally been ignited. ” I felt so happy with my hands in soil, so once I qualified I started doing my friends’ gardens. Soon the jobs came in and when gardens Having a feature published in a gardening magazine brought him to the attention of TV producers and after doing a televised tour of his garden, he was asked to cover the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and then Hampton Court. At the end of 2016 he became a regular presenter for Gardeners’ World. ” I know television needs a broad spectrum of presenters and I represent people in wheelchairs but I seem to get a good response,” says Mark, who still has his own garden design business. ” I love every minute of my work. My depression is under control, my energy levels have increased, strong painkillers control my pain and I feel as if my brain neurons are sparking again. I’m a completely different person.” Two years ago he worked on the garden at Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury and he is now into his “Thrive have created a beautiful outdoor space where people can tend to their own plot or grow “Seeing the therapists work with people is heart-warning. I love the fact gardening makes people happy; it gets them talking and they laugh, often for the first time in years. “Just getting our fingers in soil releases serotonin, a feelgood hormone – it’s the same as eating • Thrive is a charity that uses gardening to help people with a disability or ill health, or who are Visit www.thrive.org.uk for more information. Read less
discovered that the back pain that had dogged him on and off since his teens was actually caused by spina bifida occulta, a condition that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine.
would trip up. I could never ride a bike because I had balance problems but a GP had told me
I had inverted ankles, so I put everything down to that.
bifida never crossed my mind.”
sensation in the legs.
for two or three days,” he says.
hospital treatment but the crash didn’t help my pain at all.” One last attempt to alleviate Mark’s pain with a four-hour spinal desensitisation operation, in which nerve blockers were put into the
spinal area, also failed and Mark was told he had run out of options.
knew using a wheelchair was just around the corner. The dark spectre of depression sat on my shoulder 24/7. There were days when I was really down and I would go to a very dark place.”
were too big for me to get around I appointed a surveyor.”
third year working with Thrive, a charity using gardening to help people living with disabilities or
something,” says Mark. “It’s really magical to see the people blossom as well as the plants.
a bar of chocolate. Gardening is so good for everyone.”
isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable, with centres in Reading, London and Birmingham.
Mark, who recently presented coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show, was in his mid-30s when he
“Looking back, I’d had a strange gait from when I was a child,” he says. ” I dragged my feet and
” I did yoga as a teenager and at university because I had some lower back problems but spina
Spina bifida occulta is thought to affect between 10 and 20 per cent of the population but most people don’t know they have it as there are usually no symptoms. It can be discovered in adulthood when patients have X-rays or scans for other conditions. It can cause various problems including weakness or total paralysis of the legs, incontinence and loss of skin
” I discovered that about three per cent of people with spina bifida occulta go on to have lower back and peripheral nerve problems,” says Mark, who lives with partner Jasen, 52, in Canterbury, Kent. “That’s what happened with me.”
In 2006 Mark underwent the Wallis ligament procedure. An implant was inserted between the vertebrae but within days it was clear it hadn’t worked.
“The surgery didn’t do anything at all,” recalls Mark. “Soon after, I started getting peripheral nerve sensations across my body. From my toes up to my head, it felt as if someone had plugged me into an electric socket.
“It was a very quick deterioration after the operation. Within a month I had a gradual loss of feeling in my legs. The consultant had warned me the operation would either work or make it worse. I felt as if someone had put bricks on my back. I could barely move at all.”
Mark had returned to his work as a publisher part-time a month after the operation but within a few weeks he was in too much pain to carry on. Four months later he was also diagnosed with myalgic encephalopathy (ME).
” I could no longer get upstairs at our three-storey barn. If I tried to exercise, I was bed-bound
A month later, again disaster struck when Mark was involved in a car accident. ” I didn’t need
” I had a period where I was unable to get out of bed, unable to do anything,” explains Mark. ” I
Mark and Jasen, a computer programmer, moved to a bungalow near Canterbury, Kent, where they had a bigger garden than they’d had before.
Mark, who was being treated for depression and by then using a wheelchair, found he was happiest when he was outside in the garden.
“Jasen pointed out that I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and he suggested I did something with it,” says Mark. “It was true. I’ve always loved plants.”
He was accepted onto an online diploma course in horticulture which he passed with flying colours in three months.
” I loved every element of it,” he laughs. “Having a purpose lifted my spirits. It was as if a little match inside me had finally been ignited. ” I felt so happy with my hands in soil, so once I qualified I started doing my friends’ gardens. Soon the jobs came in and when gardens
Having a feature published in a gardening magazine brought him to the attention of TV producers and after doing a televised tour of his garden, he was asked to cover the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and then Hampton Court. At the end of 2016 he became a regular presenter for Gardeners’ World.
” I know television needs a broad spectrum of presenters and I represent people in wheelchairs but I seem to get a good response,” says Mark, who still has his own garden design business.
” I love every minute of my work. My depression is under control, my energy levels have increased, strong painkillers control my pain and I feel as if my brain neurons are sparking again. I’m a completely different person.”
Two years ago he worked on the garden at Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury and he is now into his
“Thrive have created a beautiful outdoor space where people can tend to their own plot or grow
“Seeing the therapists work with people is heart-warning. I love the fact gardening makes people happy; it gets them talking and they laugh, often for the first time in years.
“Just getting our fingers in soil releases serotonin, a feelgood hormone – it’s the same as eating
• Thrive is a charity that uses gardening to help people with a disability or ill health, or who are
Visit www.thrive.org.uk for more information.