Paving the way to a brighter, more accessible garden
I needed the flowers and plants to be at a reachable height, the paths to be smooth and to have a layout that was easy to maintain throughout the year
Louise Bruton in her newly renovated, wheelchair-friendly garden. Photograph: Dave Meehan
As long as I have lived in my house, my back garden has been dominated by gravel and overgrown shrubs. You may not know this but, other than hills and stairways, gravel is a wheelchair user’s worst enemy. No matter how coarse or how smooth, to heave those sinking wheels across the uneven terrain would be like watching a dolphin attempt to swim through desert sand, and there’s nothing graceful about that. Earlier this year, I promised myself that by the time the next heatwave rolls around, I would have a usable and accessible garden.
I knew that paving would be the solution to my garden problems, but my imagination hit a block beyond slabs of concrete, so I called in landscape architect Elma Fenton to magic up a garden plan that would allow me to move around easily and make the most of the space. Fenton’s accolades include a silver medal from the Chelsea Flower Show and a gold medal from Dublin’s Bloom in the Park, and she drew up a garden plan that would not only make life easier for me but it would bring colour to a dull backyard.
The first job was to uproot everything – from the lifeless evergreen shrubs to the broken concrete that previously paved the small corner of garden I could use – and to totally eliminate gravel. In the three weeks leading up to the almighty heatwave, my garden got a total overhaul, thanks to the manpower, diggers and pavers from JMD Paving.
To make my garden accessible, I needed the flowers and plants to be at a reachable height, the paths to be smooth and to have a layout that was easy to maintain throughout the year. Five raised flower beds made out of sturdy railway sleepers box off the garden and stand at two feet tall; I can reach the newly planted shrubs without bending down, straining my back or tipping over my wheelchair. Flushes of colour are brought in by dahlias, my favourite being the fire engine-red Bishop of Llandaff, fondly referred to as The Bishop, and the sharp Crocosmia “Lucifer” that’s softened by perennials such as the Aster cordifolius “Little Carlow”, which will soon reveal a violet daisy flower, different strains of fuchsia and an intense blue Festuca glauca evergreen plant.
Fenton noted that gardens should begin as soon as you look out the window so my view starts immediately from my kitchen table
One of the raised flowerbeds is dedicated to herbs, vegetables and fruit. With kitchen essentials such as basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme, peas and peppers taking pride of place, my shopping list should hopefully decrease, making cooking a little bit easier too. And with that extra height, my dog can’t have his way with my rosemary and thyme before they work their way into the Sunday roast. Small mercies, eh?
With cuttings generously donated from friends’ gardens, I’m waiting for the hybrid grape plant – the Maréchal Foch – and the raspberry plant to find their roots and roar into action, so whenever they come into bloom, I can remember who gave them to me, giving my garden an extra dose of personality. As I fully intend to make my garden a hot social spot for the local bees, honeysuckle climbers (Lonicera sempervirens and Lonicera henryi “Copper Beauty” ) and apple trees (Malus “Braeburn”) adorn the walls, rows of lavender (Lavandula “Hidcote”) line the path and baby echiums are building up strength to reach their full seven feet of purple glory.
Fenton noted that gardens should begin as soon as you look out the window so my view starts immediately from my kitchen table. Hanging baskets filled with fuchsia plants mark the start of the garden and, because they are fitted with a lowering and raising pulley system called Easy-Up, I can look after them myself. These nifty little devices are found in most garden centres in the hanging basket section. To keep my garden green, we installed an outdoor tap and a water butt made from an old whiskey barrel, bought from Simonstown Architectural, which stores up rainwater. With these new additions, I no longer have to make trips to and from the kitchen tap, haphazardly balancing a watering can on my lap.
With a gradual slope taking me from my back door to the garden, which is now lined with dark grey limestone slabs and smooth, light grey limestone cobblestones, I have a clear run from the house to the outdoor dining area, which is encircled by a wooden pergola, giving the garden the pizazz it never had before. When I was initially planning the garden, all I could think of was paving – spreading the grey – but with raised flowerbeds, climbers and adjustable hanging baskets, my garden isn’t just accessible, it has a brand new burst of life.