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Building a Wheel Chair Friendly Pond: A Case Study

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 6 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Water Feature Pond Raised Wheel-chair

Pam Bickley didn’t set out to have an unofficial second career as a water garden designer. In her own words, “It just sort of happened” – but it appears there’s a growing number of people who are very happy that it did.

Her first ‘client’ was to be her own mother, Mary, who had sadly come to realise that she could no longer manage in the family home where she had lived for nearly 40 years. Moving house inevitably came as an enormous emotional wrench, but the worst of it for green-fingered Mary was the loss of the garden that had been her pride and joy for so long. It was seeing her mum sitting on the bare patio of her new, high-accessibility abode, trying to put a brave face on it that started Pam thinking.

Getting Some Advice

“I couldn’t see why ‘wheel-chair friendly’ had to be so bleak,” she says. “There had to be something I could do to make things a bit nicer for mum. I knew she’d always wanted her own pond, so I thought this was the ideal time to do it.”

There wasn’t a lot of space in Mary’s new garden, which meant that things were going to have to be really well planned if the pond was going to work. Pam needed some advice – and knew exactly where to get it.

“I went to see the mobility officer down at the council,” she explains, “and she was really helpful. I came away with loads of leaflets and good ideas – and really fired up to get started!”

Planning the Pond

Having thought about all the options, Pam quickly realised that the amount of maintenance involved in a conventional pond could be a potential problem. One of the leaflets that she had picked up suggested that wildlife ponds are often a good choice to reduce the amount of work needed to keep things tidy and for a while toyed with going down this route, but ultimately she came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t sit well with mum.

“She’s always liked her garden neat and ordered. I couldn’t see her being happy with the idea. Then I got to thinking about raised beds. I thought if they can work for growing vegetables, then why not for a pond too?”

Pam’s first idea was simply to construct an elevated soil bank behind four small wooden walls – just like a raised vegetable bed – and then create a pond inside using a liner, in the normal way, but in the end, she found an even quicker way.

Having set off to her local garden centre to buy some of the materials, she chanced on a large rigid planter, lying on its side in a corner of the site. Although it was dirty and had clearly been hanging around for a while judging by the slimy puddle inside, it caught her attention.

“It was a bit grubby, but it was made of good thick plastic and it had a really attractive moulded pattern – Greek or Roman, maybe – on the outside. Mum really loves that kind of thing.”

Crucially, the drainage holes had evidently never been opened up, so the whole thing was still water-tight. It had been sitting forgotten for so long that no one at the garden centre seemed to know the price, but a quick spot of haggling later and Pam left with her prize – and the prospect of some cleaning!

Planting and Finishing

Raising the surface level to a height that’s convenient for a wheel-chair means that mum can enjoy the pond easily and without any fuss and, of course, there’s no fear that a slip beside the edge will dump her unceremoniously into the water.

The finished pond has been planted with a range of slow-growing and largely British plants. Although Pam decided against the full wildlife approach, she has adopted the idea of using small native species to help minimise the amount of maintenance and also ensure that the pond has something to offer throughout most of the year.

Now equipped with a small pump and filter system to keep the water looking at its best, the sound of running water fills Mary’s garden, which, after a few more wheel-chair friendly tweaks, has once again become her favourite place to be. She hasn’t been slow in singing her daughter’s praises either, it would appear.

“I think she’s been telling all of her friends,” Pam laughs. “Now I keep getting asked for help with their gardens too – I think I should set up my own business!”

With all this talk of Britain’s ageing population, she might just be on to a winner.

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