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Britain’s Most Accessible Gardens

28th March 2017

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

At this time of year we are all eager to get outside and make the most of the early spring sunshine, however that is difficult to do if you suffer from mobility issues. Often paths are still muddy, rivers are swollen or the facilities are not adapted with accessibility in mind. This is often disappointing as the elderly with stairlifts and other mobility accessories often gain the most from such outings.

However as inclusivity becomes more important, many attractions are looking towards adapting to all of their patrons’ needs. We have explored five gardens which have made extraordinary efforts into accessibility and are seeing their hard work rewarded. 

Kew Royal Botanic Gardens - London

Founded in 1840 from the exotic garden at Kew, this attraction has some of the most spectacular collections in the world. The Herbarium has over seven million preserved plant species while the often over looked library contains over 750, 000 volumes. Kew has a long history of pleasing the most discerning, as prior to being adopted as a national botanic garden, it played host to royalty and the court for many years.

The garden has continued to adapt to its ever changing audience, with all the cafés and restaurants having access ramps, lifts situated within the buildings for access to the upper levels, fully accessible toilets and disabled parking available. The flat nature of the gardens and fully tarmacked paths lend themselves to being wheelchair and buggy accessible, while the well-situated benches and cafes allow resting places for tired legs. Kew can consume an entire day if you wish to experience it thoroughly, or it can be a beautiful afternoon stroll after the busy atmosphere of the capital city. 

RHS Garden Wisley - Surrey

RHS Garden Wisley was originally created by George Fergusson Wilson back in 1878 with the intent to cultivate difficult plants within the Oakwood Experimental Garden. Since then the garden has gained a reputation for the extraordinary primulas, lilies and Japanese irises that thrived there. After the death of Wilson, and the acquisition of more land the estate was gifted to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1903, and despite the focus being an ornamental garden, it was always retained an element of the experimental roots.

Arley Gardens - Cheshire

Arley Gardens have been carefully crafted over the last 250 years and its herbaceous border has received well-deserved fame, thought to be the first border of its kind in England, it is spectacular up until late September and well worth a visit. You can easily lose a day in the eight acres of formal gardens, however The Grove is the project of the current Lord Ashbrook. The informal woodland garden is beautiful is spring with the arrival of bulbs and the flowering of the Azaleas and Rhododendrons.

Despite the history of this garden, which has been designed and maintained by the same family for over 250 years, it has made incredible efforts to offer a more accessible and inclusive experience. Andrew Moores said that despite some steep inclines, the majority of the garden is accessible: “A designated wheelchairroute has been waymaked however as this includes some steepish inclines in the Victorian Rootree and gravelled/grassed surfaces in other parts of the garden, manual wheelchair users will need the assistance of an able companion.”

With accessible toilets, café and parking this garden includes all the facilities while guaranteeing an interesting day out. The multitude of benches offer ideal places to stop and rest while appreciating the incredible planting that has brought this garden so much attention.

Helmsley Walled Garden - North Yorkshire

This garden was originally built to fulfil the needs of the Feversham family at Duncombe Park, providing fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers back in 1758. It became a commercial enterprise after the First World War but fell into disarray in the early 80’s. Since 1994, Alice Ticehurst has restored the garden to its former glory with a focus on horticultural therapy. Believing that many can gain both physical and mental wellbeing through gardening and gardens, the atmosphere of inclusivity at Helmsley is key to the garden’s success.

Mike L’Anson, the Garden Manager, believes Helmsley offers more than just plants: “Besides the obvious reasons for someone with less mobility visiting the garden because it is on level ground and all areas are accessible we actually pride ourselves on presenting a garden that is peaceful and reflective. As a social enterprise we use the income we earn from tourism to provide social care for those with disabilities and I think it is this aspect of ourselves that passes on to our visitors. Here all are equal. Mobility problems or disability you are a valued visitor treated on equal terms as all others. But it can go further, there are times when families have arrived with a member who is starting to suffer from mobility issues and may not yet be ready to accept that or accept that chairs or walkers may help them. We make the gentle suggestion that here away from the public streets they could maybe give them a try. If we or the family can persuade them it is usually successful.” 

The gardens also portray a gentle atmosphere preserving the balance between relaxing and reflective, according to Mike this is important to many of their visitors: “We maintain the garden as a place of peace and every year we have within our repeat visitors those who are either coming to terms with a critical illness for themselves, or having time away from a partner or parent who may be coming to terms.  Sadly, for some they also find solace here following bereavement. But it is also a place of joy, with our supported volunteers full engaged in delivery a quality garden that contains over 250 fruit trees, a 150m double border of hot coloured perennials and a vegetable plot that fills our café with produce throughout the year.”

National Botanic Garden of Wales - Carmarthenshire

The National Botanic Garden of Wales has been the recipient of many awards since it opened its doors in the Millennium year. Not only is it the most visited garden in wales, but it has also been recognised as the most romantic, as well as the number one ‘Wonder of Wales’. This said, though it lacks the maturity of some of the other gardens on this list, it has enough innovation and creativity to more than compensate.  The garden incorporates 560 acres of countryside, that is a joy to wander around, but it has a much more educational element as well, running classes year-round on everything from evolution to the role of plants in scientific research.

On the subject of accessibility, Steffan John believes the success of the garden is within the original plans as well as the variety of services they offer to their visitors with limited mobility: “The garden has been designed to be accessible to all visitors whatever their ability.

“The garden offers a daily shuttle buggy service where our volunteer buggy drivers transport those with limited mobility from the garden’s main entrance (Gatehouse) to either the Great Glasshouse, the Stable Block where our Seasons Restaurant, gift shop and gallery are located, or other areas of the garden.

Visitors with limited mobility can also hire mobility scooters, which enable them to drive themselves around the garden, these are available to hire for £6 for the day from the main entrance.  We also have manual wheelchairs available to borrow from the main entrance which are free of charge to use.

The garden was one of Wales’ main Millennium projects and accessibility was a key factor in its design, with all paths within the formal garden area being wheelchair and mobility scooter friendly.”

Sissinghurst Castle Garden- Kent

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens have a history of both romance and literature. Though only five acres, the garden was created by Vita Sackville-West, a poet and gardening writer. Though Vita was on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group, both her own fame (and that of Sissinghurst) came from her weekly columns in The Observer.

The garden is laid out in a series of room that each have a different theme or feeling. The privacy of tall hedges continue the secluded feeling while also allowing vistas into the next room that draw you on a tantalising journey through the grounds.

Vicky Bray from Sissinghurst’s business support team divulged: “A lot of the estate is accessible, without steps or steep slopes. Designated disabled parking is within the main car park and drop-off points for the mobility buggy are from the car park to visitor reception and the shop. An adapted toilet is accessible on level ground at visitor reception and via a ramp at the restaurant Assistance dogs are welcome and should a visitor require additional help a member of the team will be happy to assist.” 

Image Credit: DiliffSteve FarehamSMJ, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Oast House Archive