Wheelchair Accessible Garden Bed Planter box

Welcome to the web page for the wheelchair planter box project:
click here for the plans

last updated: 03/24/05 Jay Chesavage


Background: This project was first done in 2002 with the amazing Bob Waterman of the landscaping company Waterman and Sun (that's spelled correctly - its a pun on Bob's essential gardening elements "water, man, and sun"), and the Palo Alto Junior League centennial day project for the Community Association for Rehabilitation (CAR), where they can be seen on the right side of 525 E. Charleston at Middlefield in Palo Alto.  The project was originally submitted by CAR to Rebuilding Together mid-peninsula, which used its close ties with each of the participating individuals and organizations to make the project come together.  The CAR planter boxes were originally adaptations of a wheelchair planter box from the Gamble Gardens in Palo Alto.  I had no idea how popular the plans for this planter box would become, and I have received many requests for the plans while continuing to build them as a volunteer for others.  Most  recently, I took the below photos while working with a volunteer group from Peninsula Bible Church, where the planter box was part of a larger scope of wheelchair accessible improvements for an elderly gardening homeowner in East Palo Alto who very recently lost her legs to diabetes.  The planter box described in these plans is a rather large and permanent fixture, and includes posts set in concrete to mitigate the spreading forces present at the bottom of the planter box.  It conveniently has a 180 degree available gardening area which surrounds the wheelchair gardener, and the raised planter box extends to the earth to maintain constant soil temperature and encourage deep root growth.  


While this webpage describes a specific planter box design in some detail, there are other sources of plans for wheelchair accessible gardens and planter boxes, including The Enabling Garden by Gene Rothert


Plans: click here to download a pdf version of the plans.


If these plans work out for you, send your photos to me, and you are encouraged to send a contribution to Rebuilding Together Peninsula, where they will happily convert it into materials for an elderly or disabled homeowner somewhere in their local service area.  


If these plans don't work for you, send me an email explaining how I can improve the design or description


Disclaimer: The plans herein are offered without warranty and may or may not be suitable for your purpose.  They are made to the best of my knowledge and ability, which, as my friends never hesitate to remind me, may not be saying much ;-). Carpentry and gardening can be equally dangerous and potentially lethal recreational endeavors, as I've discovered over the years with my Master Gardener wife Pamela.  Of some practical importance are planning and verifying these two critical dimensions so you don't end up with a useless and puzzling lawn ornament: 1) be sure and verify the finished grade height, which is your datum for everything else; and 2) verify the height of the armrest handles of your wheelchair compared to the underside of the entry shelf.  These are shown on the plan, and the planter boxes based on this design have been in use with a wide range of outside wheelchairs, even surveyed by the ADA inspectors at CAR, whose observations have been incorporated into these plans, but verify these measurements several times before you get in too deep (so to speak ;-).


Construction Steps and Photos:



This is the front view of the planter box showing the first step of setting the 10 posts in concrete.  This was donated lumber, and we somehow ended up with all 8 foot posts, instead of the original plan of cutting 10 foot posts into equal-length pairs.  I prefer to use redwood posts and lumber,, and not pressure treated lumber.  Pressure treated lumber is douglas fir soaked in a mixture of copper, chromium, and arsenic, and the lumber industry now takes the surprising step of dying their pressure treated posts red so it disguises itself as redwood, which it is not ;-).  This Fine Gardening magazine article on the tradeoffs of redwood vs pressure treated lumber is a good read. There is some debate about whether the arsenic in pressure treated lumber stays bound with the lumber or leaches out into the vegetables. I prefer using redwood for a variety of reasons including the unpleasantness of sawing treated lumber and the nasty reactions and infections I get from pressure treated lumber splinters, which means diabetics with compromised circulation and children with curious fingers are all at greater risk than I.   Pressure treated posts usually have puncture marks on the outside, and may be natural copper sulfate green, or are sometimes dyed red.  Before you buy your posts, take a knife and peel away a 1/8" layer of outer wood.  If the underlying wood is dark green or blonde, it's pressure treated douglas fir, and if pinkish red, it's redwood.

This is the front view of the planter box after the front two courses of planter box boards, after which the entry ledger is nailed on top of those.  Prior to placing the entry ledger, be sure the finished grade level (cement will be poured in this case) is marked on the inner entry posts, and that the top planter box boards and entry ledger are placed the specified elevations above this datum.  This is critical, as your wheelchair gardener will not be amused if they have to either reach way over the top because your top boards are too high, or they get the wheelchair handles wedged into the underside of the entry because it is too low. 
This is a side view looking towards the front entry ledge of the planter box.  The wheelchair entry shelf ledgers are nailed on below the entry ledger described above.  When those are complete, the remainder of the front and rear planter box boards can be nailed on from the inside.
This is a side view showing the continuation of the framing of the wheelchair entry.  Unexpected special camera effects are courtesy of Canon.
This is the front view of the same detail shown above, at the same stage of framing.  Once the front and rear planter box boards are installed, one of the ends is closed, and the box is filled.
Planterbox mix may compact over time and use, and refilling may be required to keep the soil level at a comfortable working height.
side view of another finished planter box awaiting the application of the finish grade, which will be concrete..


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