Garden Photo of the Day

READER PHOTOS! Brenda’s garden in South Carolina

Imagine creating and maintaining a gardenlike this from a wheelchair! So inspiring. Check it out HERE.

Today’s photos come from Brenda Parent in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Brenda says, “My grandmother had a farm in North Carolina where I spent a few weeks each summer with no TV, and my father always had a big vegetable garden. Growing up, I’d much rather be out there with him than inside with my mom cleaning or washing dishes.  That was what my older sister was for.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent

“I broke my neck in a car accident on an icy road in New Hampshire while on my way to work as a bank auditor on December 13, 1983. I was told that I would never be independent again. Definitely a life changing experience for a 22 year old. I spent about 5 years in and out of therapy until I realized that if I built my shoulders up anymore, there would be no clothes that would fit me. I became very independent and in 1987 had my son. I moved to South Carolina in 1990. I dealt with some other real life issues–death, divorce, etc.–until I met Kevin, my husband, in 1997.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent

I worked as a consultant on accessible public transportation, and had gone off to Denver for a trip. When I came home my husband had planted some mums around a dogwood tree that was in full sun! I was hooked. The garden grew, the dogwood was eventually removed, and as we have aged we have added more flowering shrubs and completely redesigned the yard. I had only been able to get to my backyard a few times because it was difficult to push through the grass, and it sloped down towards the marsh. We hired a landscape architect to help deal with some grading and erosion problems, and to help design a walkway completely around the yard.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent

“I found myself involved with all of it, and mostly with the design. It had to work for me. Slope and grade are critical for someone who uses a wheelchair, and who spends a lot of time in their garden. I wanted very little lawn and I didn’t want the same old, boring plants most people use. My list of likes and dislikes were very specific. Adequate spacing of the plants was very important for me to get around. I own every long-reach tool manufactured–a lot anyway. I would still like to add some additional  meandering pathways with flag stone spaced fairly closely someday, but for the most part, I can get to where I need to go. I’m good at pointing too!

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent

“After 20 years working as a consultant on almost every issue involving accessibility, I decided to focus my efforts on my passion. Just this past year I went through and passed our state’s Master Gardener program. Accessibility to outdoor spaces, gardens in general (public and private), has now become my focus. I started a blog too, because I think I have something to say that other gardeners may be interested in. This is the part of access that I really love. I know the regulations, but they’re simply minimum requirements. I go beyond them with my suggestions.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent

“My next step is to pursue a Master’s Certificate in Horticultural Therapy and to volunteer with a program locally. There is always more to learn. As our population ages, they are sharing the same issues that I’ve been dealing with for the last 28 years. When I see an outdoor space, I ask “how can everyone enjoy this?” For me, in my home garden, it has been a way of life. Quality moments with family, and quiet solitude after a stressful day.”

Wow, Brenda. You are an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your garden with us! 

***Visit Brenda’s blog HERE!***

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Brenda Parent

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View Comments


  1. diecierose 03/27/2012

    What a beautiful creation.
    I, too, am a South Carolinian and a master Gardener.
    Now I live in Saluda,NC but am back in Columbia and Charleston a lot now with the National Garden Clubs Judges program.
    Would love to see your plantings sometime.

    Mary Reeves [email protected]

  2. BevImagine 03/27/2012

    What a beautiful garden...and thanks for the background info too. It is a reminder to all of us in the industry to always be looking at how our designed spaces will be perceived through the eyes of others who need enhanced accessibility. Did we just create a garden for ALL to enjoy and participate? I am so glad to have read your story!

  3. Steepdrive 03/27/2012

    An amazing garden for an amazing woman. I'll have to check out your blog for sure. I really liked the little surprise elements like the crocodile.

  4. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/27/2012

    Brenda, on every level your garden is beautiful and is a wonderful example of how nothing need be sacrificed to make pathways safe and friendly for all. Love your touches of garden ornamentation...the happy grinning gnome made me smile in return.
    Your story resonated with me on a personal level because my dad was paralyzed from the waist down during my ages of 10 through 21. He stayed housebound and never ventured out. Your reality is so dramatically different and it says so much about the power of the human will. I never thought about it deeply before. Your story will be with me today as I garden. Thank you.

  5. gottagarden 03/27/2012

    I REALLY like your fountain with the ball on top and the circular basins beneath. So classy! Wish I could find one like that.

  6. siesperanza 03/27/2012

    Way to go Brenda. Just beautiful. I love the art pieces in your garden especially the alligator. Multiple Sclerosis is in my family and I think your story would make a great article for the MS magazine. Many thanks for sharing.

  7. Queenofgreentlc 03/27/2012

    May god shine upon you and your garden always. Your story is inspiring and amazing. I have suffered from a back injury too at a young age 26. Its certainly challenging adapting to what you love to do!

  8. PBoehle 03/27/2012

    Such a beautiful garden Brenda. You are truly an inspiration to all of us. Our home was rebuilt to be completely accessible as my mother-in-law was in a wheelchair and my husband is certified in universal design as a remodeler but your writing and pictures have opened my eyes to so much more in the way of possibilities. The way you have combined your love of gardening, and your unique perspective from living with a disability into helping others is just incredible.

  9. MizScarlet 03/27/2012

    What an inspirational story! More and more people are beginning to understand the benefits of horticultural therapy. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    CONGRATULATIONS ON BECOMING A MASTER GARDENER. Having just completed the program myself, I know how challenging it must have been for you. You have definitely shown that your limited mobility has just slightly altered your participation--not stopped it.

  10. sheilaschultz 03/27/2012 have opened a lot of eyes today, thank you. Your spirit shines through in your beautiful gardens as does your sense of humor. Love it! Thank you for letting us take a little peek into your world.

  11. Parb 03/27/2012

    This is just beautiful. It is such an accomplishment.

  12. greengrowler 03/27/2012

    Brenda, thank you so much for sharing your story. Most of us, at one time or another, focus on what we can't do or obstacles to achieving our desires. Thanks for reminding us that obstacles are largely our own perspective on reality; we truly can find ways to accomplish our heart's desires if we focus on those things we can do. As others have commented, you are inspirational in many ways!

    And, like gottagarden, I love the tiered ball fountain. Your entire garden is delightful!

  13. user-75290 03/27/2012

    Thanks everyone! I'm just sharing something that, I like many gardeners, am very passionate about! I've enjoyed everyone's comments here and on my blog today. If we're all lucky enough to live a long life, we'll all be facing some kind of mobility issue. Life goes on. My home is fairly accessible, and so is my garden. Because of my efforts within my community, so are many buildings, sidewalks, and many parks. (Still more to be done!) Yes there are guidelines and minimum requirements, but I try to get people to go beyond them whenever possible. The slope of a ramp is suppose to be 1":12". If we can do less, why not? Everyone benefits, people are getting older. I'm still a MG Intern, whose always learning. Combining my knowledge of access with my love of gardening, seems like the right thing to do. I have something to say and to share from my own life experience. Gardening has been an outlet, and sometimes an escape.It just feels good, and now it feels great to share. My blog is new and I still need to make it accessible to everyone by adding a description with my photos. I've been around enough diverse people to know that all people enjoy plants, whether through smells, touch or by sight. [email protected]

  14. user-75290 03/27/2012

    ps We really need a LIKE button on here! Everyone's comments, to quote a reader of my blog (TJ), have been "super duper AWESOME!"

  15. ncgardener 03/27/2012

    Beautiful garden. I am starting a Veterans Organic garden for disabled and homeless veterans and I would love to get a few tips on pathways and height restrictions. I am also working with NCagribility which helps with modifying agriculture equipment. What you have been able to do in your garden is wonderful. I would love to visit if possible. Thanks for a preview.

  16. tractor1 03/27/2012

    What a wonderous accomplishment,it's as though Brenda overcame her disability by growing wings.

  17. tractor1 03/27/2012

    I decided to add that I wonder why Brenda doesn't avail herself of a motorized wheel chair (or some sort of powered vehicle),I'd think that would make gardening (and much more) so much more accessable. As I've gotten older my 16 acre property has apparently gotten larger, at least this 70 year old body has perceived it so, so more and more I traverse the distances with a small tractor, besides myself it also makes transporting tools and materials effortless... I can't drag a garden hose a 1,000 feet but by hitching a wagon I can haul many buckets of water. it was becoming pointless to lug myself with a heavy load a thousand feet only to be too tuckered out to garden when I got there. I think it's so much wiser to orchestrate ones mobility than attempting to alter ones environment, that's literally spinning ones wheels. I've spent over fifty years as a master tool & diemaker, time and motion study is my expertise... the best mechanics are the laziest.

  18. user-75290 03/27/2012

    My next blog will cover equipment! :-) The chair I want is an adapted Segway from Italy. Unfortunately, one has to go there to get it. I'm looking at a couple of all terrain chairs. I believe that equipment as well as environment are both important. Most power chairs are elevated and make it more difficult to reach the ground. When I was first injured, I was told I that I would never be independent and that I would need a power chair. I lived in New Hampshire then and was very dependent for over a year. I had a personal care attendant. I worked really hard to regain my independence. I had to relearn everything, including scratching my nose. I drove a car for thirteen years and loaded my manual chair 6-7 times a day. I do drive a small van now. Yes, there is a certain stigma for me associated with going back to using a power chair. One cannot push a power chair if the batteries die. When I do decide to get a power chair, it's got to be one that can cruise the beach! When I lived in Vermont I enjoyed cruising around on a lawn tractor. Great question!

  19. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/27/2012

    Brenda, I enjoyed your blog and think you provide a real service with your advocacy for safe public accessibility for all as well as your passion for gardening.It was very interesting to read why you have the preference for a non power chair and how you have coped with some of the challenges of your situation.

    tractor1, when we first moved to our fairly extensive (at least to me) property situation 17 years ago, I got a golf cart and had a 4x4 bed put on it. It has been a god send and I totally identify with your rueful observation that distances get longer as we age...funny about that! I sure know what you mean about how arduous dragging a hose can be if it's over a longish distance...seems like it defies some law of physics or nature about how an inanimate object can get heavier all on its own.

  20. terieLR 03/27/2012

    WoW! Brenda, hi. I'm just now getting to the GPOD and was delighted to read your introduction along with all the comments. Everyone has put into words, my thoughts as I scrolled down through this page... Your inspiration will be drawn from through the summer months as we all tend our gardens with more awareness of what you have accomplished. (and continue to do!) Bravo garden friend.

  21. tractor1 03/27/2012

    Brenda, there are all sorts of light weight garden tractors to choose from, those one sees at the Home Depot, Lowe's etal are not tractors, those are riding mowers made to look like tractors. I like the little Kabota because it's diesel, has an 18 horsepower engine that produces twice the torque of a gasolene engine, is very economical on fuel, and I liked that it has power steering. It's a real tractor with a three point hitch. And there are infinite tire types one can choose for any terrain, even sandy beaches. Mine has a mid point mower but it's easily removeable. With a small Agri Fab cart I can carry all I need for a days work and I'm positive it will hold a wheel chair to use at a destination. There have been quite a few times that I've used that little tractor with it's small mower to mow my entire 10 acres of lawn because the ground was too muddy to use my big tractor.

    Meander1, hoses are fairly light until filled with water. When I first moved here I was perplexed about how to water plants that were a distance from the house so I bought ten 100' hoses on sale at Lowe's. The first time I connected them and turned on the water I instantly knew I made a big mistake... there is no way to drag that much water filled hose even a short distance. That's when I decided on getting the cart and hauling 5 gallon buckets of water to wherever I needed to water a plant. I learned to go slow and not fill the buckets more than 3/4 full to keep the water from sloshing out. The tractor and the cart are a real life saver here or I'd not be able to accomplish a tenth of my regular chores.

  22. user-75290 03/28/2012

    Fortunately the yard here in the suburbs is fairly small. Transferring on and off a small tractor is a little more difficult than it use to be. If I had more land I would definitely consider it or an atv. We did the walkway all the way around the entire yard. Anything for the beaches or wildlife areas would need to be battery powered. I'll post some pictures next week on the blog of what I've been considering. I bought an attachment for the front of my chair called a FreeWheel, and it works great on flat terrain. I'll probably be buying some Mountain bike tires to go with it! I like pushing for now and will continue to do so as long as I can. Eventually I will buy power. I love the fact you're cruising around on your tractor. You reflect a great "can do" attitude! Thank you for your suggestions. And yes, water hoses are simply a pain no matter how long or short! I have two 75' coil hoses that I love, but other people can mess them up quite easily.

  23. pattyspencer 03/28/2012

    What an inspiring story and a beautiful garden. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Joyce70 03/28/2012

    What a wonderful garden - truly a botanical experience. I live in a retirement village, but so many gardens are not accessible for people with disabilities. I am forwarding your blog to our Master Gardener's.

    I envy your neighbors in their enjoyment of your garden.

  25. Brenda_s_sister 03/31/2012

    I am the sister Brenda writes about...the one always stuck INSIDE the house growing up, doing the dishes, ironing, nothing fun like gardening with our father! All the comments are deserved, Brenda. YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION, to me, to all that know you or have been touched by your determination and passion for life. I miss our father everyday, but I see so much of him in YOU, in your handiwork, in your independence, your sense of humor, your boundless energy to make things better for so many people. You are a sister to be proud of, and I am so blessed that I am the one and only that can call you sis. I love you and I am so proud of you and your achievements. You are making a difference in this world.

  26. user-75290 04/02/2012

    I am sincerely appreciative of all of the comments that I have received, and I am very thankful that you consider me inspirational. Thank you for checking out my blog as well. Please continue to follow my blog. I enjoy hearing from everyone. Thank you.

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