Container Gardening: A Universal Design Approach to Accessibility

Want to add pizzazz to the view outside your windows? Need a way for those who cannot stand or walk to enjoy gardening from a seated position? Gardening in containers allows people more access and independence as well as creates a colorful complement to your landscape.

Want to add pizzazz to the view outside your windows? Need a way for those who cannot stand or walk to enjoy gardening from a seated position? Gardening in containers allows people more access and independence as well as creates a colorful complement to your landscape.

Look out your windows and think about adding plants to your deck, patio, porch, rooftop, courtyard, front walk, and staircase landings. For a view close-up, attach a window box to a window or railing.

Colorful flowering plants are a joy to behold. The atmosphere of your outdoor living space can be transformed. Because of their mobility, containers can be moved throughout the season, offering variety as the days pass. Place dollies under heavy pots to make them easier to slide around. For diversity, plants can be changed out with the new season.

Container Basics

As you think about your favorite small trees, shrubs, herbs, vegetables and flowers, shop for containers large enough to hold their roots. It is best to buy containers with 10" or larger diameters to hold more massive displays of color. This also helps to ensure that water is available to the plants and enhances survival.

For accessibility for wheelchair users and seated gardeners, select containers that are 24 "tall. You can buy containers made of clay, concrete, plastic or wood. Realize that clay pots are not frost proof and must be moved to a protected area, like a garage, if the winter temperatures dip below freezing. Plastic pots will last longer if they were made with ultraviolet inhibitors. Chimney flue tiles and drainage pipes made of fired clay and whiskey barrels also make great containers for the accessible garden. Make sure there is a hole in the bottom of the containers to allow water to drain out.

Plant Selection
Small trees, shrubs, bulbs, annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs adapt to containerized gardening. Plants can be evergreen or lose their leaves in the winter. Some plants will survive year after year, while others are not hardy in the winter months. Due to the hardiness of many plants, they should be planted after the frost free date in your area.

If you are looking to add plants with height to your deck or patio, plant a small tree. Japanese maple, Chinese fan palm, hibiscus, dwarf Norway spruce and date palm adapt well in a container. For a bushy shrub, consider a Japanese snowball viburnum, rose, potentilla, dwarf juniper or yew, camellia, azalea or rhododendron.

Want to grow vegetables and herbs that you can pick right off your deck?

Try tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, beans, lettuce, peas, spinach, parsley, dill, basil and chives. Some vining plants will need to be staked or grown in a wire cage for support. Look for varieties that produce smaller plants. These are better suited for containers.

Recognize that vegetable and herb plants need a sunny location. As you survey your site for placement of your containers, the west and south sides of your house will be the sunniest. There are flowering plants that grow best in sun while others flourish in shade. Use references and read the plant tags as you make your selections. Do not mix plants in your container that are not compatible based on sun tolerance.

To help you select plants that flower all summer in a sunny location, consider geraniums, petunias, salvias, zinnia, poppy, daisy, snapdragons, coreopsis, moss rose, marigolds and verbena. For flowering plants that are not as sun tolerant and do best in the shade, consider calla lily, begonia, impatiens, fushia, delphinium, annual phlox, lobelia, nasturtiums, sweet alyssum, and bleeding heart.

Want to have flowers in early spring? Plant tulip, hyacinth, crocus, anemone, daffodil and grape hyacinth bulbs in the fall.

Summer flowering bulbs are also worth a try. Plant canna, dahlia, gladiolus, lily and iris in early spring. These do well mixed with annual and perennial flowers.

For sensational fragrance, try blooming plants like gardenia, jasmine and rose. Some plants have scented leaves to add fragrance to your skin when you rub them. Try sage, rosemary, mint, scented geranium and lavender.

You can mix or match colors in containers. Using one species in one isolated color can be dramatic. There is nothing more striking that a large pot of red impatiens. Combinations of two or three complimentary colors in a single container can be awesome.

In addition to flower color, mix plants in a container based on plant heights, leaf texture and leaf color. Ornamental grasses and draceana spikes provide height and narrow leaves. Coleus and dusty miller have colorful leaves. An ivy leaf geranium, English ivy and asparagus fern can cascade over the container's rim for a soft effect.

Planting and Caring

When planting your containers, select a bagged premium potting medium that contains sphagnum peat moss and wetting agents. Also add water retaining/absorbing products in order to ensure that the potting medium holds water for the roots.

To aid in moisture retention, add 1-2" of mulch to the surface of your containers. There are many products like pine and hardwood barks that work well.

For the continued health and growth of your container planting, monitor the moisture level on a daily basis. Don't wait until your plants are wilting to water them. Warm temperatures and breezes cause plants to dry. Hanging baskets dry out especially fast.

Water is the most limiting factor in having a successful container gardening experience. Water thoroughly, saturating the potting media until you see water coming out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the containers.

A few weeks after planting, it is a good idea to fertilize each container. Depending on the potting media selected, supplemental fertilizer should be added. Plastic-coated slow-release fertilizer beads like Osmocote can be sprinkled on the surface of the potting media. The fertilizer will be released slowly for several months. Many gardeners prefer to fertilize as they water. Follow the application instructions on the label.

Container gardening is very easy and rather care-free. Plants can be in closer view of where you gaze out of your windows and sit on your outdoor decks and patios. By selecting plants that are suited to the environment and starting them off in a premium potting media, you can enjoy months of living color and a bountiful harvest.

Byline: Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is a speaker and writer. To book her to speak at a conference, or to subscribe to her free monthly inspirational column, go to:

Rosemarie conducts presentations that bring out the best in people, to help them achieve goals, and take charge of their lives. Rosemarie helps her audiences discover their inner strength. Her core message is focused on sharing information, strategies, and life lessons that provide the tools to LIVE LIFE WITH CONVICTION.

She is the author of "Take Back Your Life!" and is Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2004.

Rosemarie would like to receive your comments about the impact her article has made on your life. Write her at:

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