Finding the way – from ‘Garden with Alan Titchmarsh’
How one man overcame challenges to become a renowned garden designer.
Presenting garden makeover programmes on television has taught me a lot over the years about designing a space with disabilities in mind. However, Mark Lane, who has become a regular face on BBC’s Gardeners’ World, knows more than most about it. He’s been a wheelchair user since a car accident in 2001 and now designs gardens for a living.
‘I grew up in an apartment in Hove,’ he says, ‘but every weekend we visited my grandparents who had a very large garden, and my grandfather used to teach me about plants, which I loved. Then later, when I was working in publishing, my garden had a makeover for a book, and that sparked my interest in garden design.’
‘After my accident, I wasn’t sure what to do with my life for a long time, but one day my partner, Jasen, suggested doing something that would use my knowledge of plants, and I started trying to find a college that would accept someone in a wheelchair on a garden design course.’
‘At that time, 17 years ago, most weren’t adapted for wheelchairs, and I was even told by two tutors I wouldn’t be up to the physical work. But eventually I found an online course that I passed with flying colours. I now design gardens both in the UK and abroad, including some specifically for people who have disabilities.’
‘I’ve recently designed a garden for the Strode Park Foundation, a disability residential charity, with a layout based on the shape of water droplets as the garden leads directly off a new aqua therapy centre. I also did a design for Pilgrims Hospices in Kent, to allow patients in wheelchairs and in beds to go outside with ease.’
‘Gardening is something anyone can do, no matter what their disability. It’s just a question of finding ways to make it possible. There’s a multitude of physical and mental disabilities, from chronic arthritis to depression, so it’s essential to find out what an individual is able to do – and what they would like to do. For example, you might think of raised beds, but although they lift the soil up to a better height, a lot of people can’t turn their upper torso to work in them. Stable paths at least 1.2 metres wide (ideally 2 metres) are essential to fit a wheelchair of any size, and planting densely and choosing mainly perennials that only need cutting back once a year makes life easier.’
‘Long-handled tools and a litter-picking grabber are really useful, and at home we have roll-out tracks so I can get into the middle of deep beds. I’ve planted low privet hedges I can prune from my seated position and although I use raised gravel boards at the edge of beds to prevent my wheelchair rolling into them, I’ve been careful to avoid any other raised areas in the garden. Outdoor lighting needs careful consideration too because it’s easy for lights to dazzle anyone who is at wheelchair height. Things like that really make a difference.’
We’re currently in Gardens and Health Week, run by the National Garden Scheme, and Mark Lane has teamed up with the NGS and Leonard Cheshire, the international charity supporting the disabled, to promote gardening’s benefits. This autumn, he will also be designing a garden for one of the charity’s care homes, Agate House near Bedford, funded by the NGS. I know his thoughtful plans will be much appreciated by everyone who uses that space for years to come.
To find out more about Mark Lane’s work, visit marklanedesigns.com