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Planning the Pond for All Ability Access

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 25 Aug 2011 | comments*Discuss
Ponds Ability Access Raised Water

Everyone likes a pond, but unfortunately when it comes to many traditional approaches to water garden design, not everybody finds it just so easy to enjoy one. If you, or any of your family or friends, have mobility or access difficulties, then the simple joys of pond ownership can sometimes seem difficult to achieve – but they don’t have to be. With good initial planning, and a realistic idea of what you want to achieve, it’s perfectly possible to have a water feature that offers access to all, whatever their particular needs or abilities.

Raised Ponds

Raised ponds are undoubtedly one of the best solutions to the demands of different ability access, and can be particularly useful for people with balance or stability issues – such as the very young or the very old – or whose movement is restricted. Lifting the water above ground level will, for instance, make access easier for wheel-chair users, and if the pond’s sides are high enough, can also help to reduce the danger of small children accidentally falling in – though this alone is obviously no substitute for the usual 360-degree vision and constant vigilance normally demanded of parents!

For anyone who finds standing unaided for any length of time a bit of a problem, the raised pond design lends itself easily to the provision of seating around the edge, though clearly where the feature is also going to be used by young children, this needs to be planned with some care, if Granny’s pond-side bench isn’t going to become an impromptu diving board.

Raised ponds call for a slightly different construction technique, typically requiring concrete, block-work, or strong timber sides to support the inner liner and the huge weight of water it contains, but it’s well within the scope of a reasonably competent DIYer. If that approach doesn’t appeal, however, there are now commercially available designs around to make the job easier. Although they are obviously a more expensive option that building your own pond from scratch, these modular systems allow you to construct matching raised beds too, which can make really useful complementary features in the all ability access garden.

Surroundings, Paths and Access Ways

The paths and access ways around the pond are an essential element to get right, particularly if space in the garden is a bit limited. Inevitably much of it comes down to individual needs, but the two golden rules are firstly, don’t be mean with how much room you allocate and secondly, avoid clutter or ‘fussiness’. The whole point of an all ability pond is to encourage and facilitate access for all, which largely boils down to making it easy to get to the water, and giving everyone enough room to be able to move around the edge in reasonable comfort – whether that’s on their own two legs, with the aid of a walking frame, or in a wheel chair.

Like much of any garden design, the ‘ideal’ often has to be constrained by the art of the possible, but in general, it’s often far better to lose a little size on the pond, if that means that the physical access can be made to be easier, rather than risk ending up with an awkward approach that, in the end, suits nobody very well.

Choosing Your Materials

Bear in mind, too, the actual materials that you plan on using. Gravel and bark chippings look wonderful, but they’re not easy to wheel a wheel chair over; rough hewn rock lends a natural appearance, but it’s not the best choice for anyone unsteady on their feet; good quality decking can be ideal, but it may need maintenance to keep it in good repair. The final decision needs to chime with the look and feel of the garden design, of course, but it also has to serve a very practical purpose, so proper consideration has to go into meeting the particular needs of people who will actually be using the pond.

Safety First

Safety is always an issue around any pond, but clearly, for anyone with limited mobility or less than perfect balance, it assumes even greater importance.

All the usual warnings apply, of course, especially regarding electrical installations and the very real danger of drowning, even in the relatively shallow waters of a garden pond, but in addition, it is essential to consider any particular dangers that might affect less able visitors to the edge. Remembering the ‘avoid clutter’ rule can be helpful here, and be on the lookout for potential slip or trip hazards which might cause less able-bodied persons to be unceremoniously propelled into the pond. Now that really would be taking the idea of ‘easy access’ a bit too far!

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