Growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a wiener dog.

March 12, 2018

How to design a garden that will allow you to "age in place"

As a man who is just entering his golden years, one of the saddest things that I'm seeing is gardens owned by people who are just a little bit older than me becoming unusable for them. And the reason for this is the same reason that people often have to give up living where they've been for decades, the design doesn't allow them to "age in place".

If you're familiar with the concept of "aging in place" it means that a person can continue to live somewhere, and enjoy it, as they go into old age. It's a difficult concept for most people to accept, that they will get old, and certain things will become more difficult.

I have a unique point of view, as I had a preview of what old age limitations would feel like when I had a stroke in my mid-forties. I was able to get up on my feet, but I suffer from some of the "nuisance problems" of people older than me, such as poor balance, and impaired vision in dark areas, with contrast. But I'm also a graphic designer, which means I'm fascinated with design, and how something can be both beautiful and useable. My house, and my garden, will allow me to age in place. If you're interested in doing this now, in spite of the fact that you're young and strong, I think I can help. I call it "design for the elderly, the disabled and the drunk". And if you're not in the first two categories, you probably have been in the third one, and you can understand what it feels like.

If your design won't accommodate someone who has "had a few", you need to re-evaluate. That is, if your design requires careful footwork to navigate around hazards, you've made a mistake. And yes, I recommend having a few too many beers and then taking a walk around your garden. If you're tripping over things, or just missing an accident, you know what you need to fix (when you sober up!).

Now waitaminute, I'm not saying that your garden design has to be completely flat and featureless. As a designer I've often seen people feel the need to go from one extreme to another - either a design that's practically an obstacle course, or a design that's so dull that no one would even want to look at it.

Start with a place to walk to and sit. Design everything around chairs and a table. Don't squeeze chairs and a table into a garden. Look for trip hazards and eliminate them. No hoses lying on the ground, no trip-hazard steps. And make it very clear where people are supposed to walk, and where the garden is. No stepping stones! No. No.

Because of my personal experience, I can take a glance at a garden and say "no way!" And if you don't see it, and you don't mind me criticizing you, just ask me. Garden mistakes may not force you out of your own garden for twenty or thirty years, but they will. Fix it now.
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