A community garden in Austin will be renovated to make it easier for seniors and people with disabilities to grow produce and flowers.

The Hart Peace Community Garden, 645 N. Latrobe Ave., is run by Pat and Robert Hart, who started the garden on three abandoned lots they bought from the city.

The Harts have experienced disabilities that hindered their ability to garden. Pat Hart suffered an injury in 2008, then had back surgery that made it difficult to bend down to care for plants. Robert Hart is a military veteran whose disability was exacerbated when he contracted coronavirus this year.

Now with help from Human Scale, a design nonprofit founded by University of Illinois at Chicago students, the Hart garden will incorporate several ADA-accessible planter stations, paved walkways and a sun shelter to create a more navigable space.

“I want to make it accessible to as many people as I can. And make it so more vets can come garden,” Robert Hart said.

The Harts initially worked with Human Scale to build a shade structure at the garden. But since most of the people who garden and volunteer are seniors, and most of the neighbors also are seniors or have disabilities, they felt larger structural changes were needed.

Aylen Pacheco, a project leader with Human Scale, said the renovations will be done in two phases.

“The idea is to create the dynamic design so that people are more engaged with the built environment, and so they’re more inclined to go to these spaces and either exercise or garden and feel comfortable in the space,” Pacheco said.

Accessible planter beds are being designed with help from the UIC National Organization for Minority Architecture Students. The planters are raised with legs so gardeners with disabilities don’t have to bend over to care for their plants. Seniors can do their garden work as if they were sitting at a desk.

The planters are also accessible for people who use wheelchairs, and each station has a tabletop to hold tools and other equipment for easy use.

Community gardens are typically covered in mulch, which makes them difficult to move across for people using wheelchairs, canes or walkers. To remedy that, Human Scale will pave the garden’s walkways using a decomposed granite, which is an easier surface for wheels to navigate.

“A person in a wheelchair can move freely through the space and have no limits,” Pacheco said.

The garden will also get a paved meandering walkway as part of the project’s second phase. The walkway will include small areas for art installations to be displayed, which Pacheco said will turn the garden into an outdoor gallery.

Pat Hart hopes the upgrades will encourage the community to see it as a gathering place and a peaceful refuge. She said many of the seniors will also benefit from being able to stroll through the garden to get fresh air and relax.

“They’ll get a path so they can walk around and get their exercise,” Hart said. “They can walk around here and feel safe instead of going up the street.”

Human Scale is also building an accessible pergola to provide shade for gardeners.

The 400-square-foot sun shelter will serve as a gathering place for events, picnics and workshops. Pat Hart said having a structure at the garden was important to her so children will be more likely to enjoy the garden and learn about healthy eating and plant care.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by late August and will include the accessible planters, the pergola and the paved paths. The second phase of the project will begin in 2021 and will add the walkway and build a greenhouse to the pergola to extend the growing season.

The $30,000 worth of renovations are being done at no cost to the garden. Human Scale is relying on volunteer work to build the improvements. The nonprofit is also seeking donations of building materials including wood, landscaping materials, gravel and topsoil.

Those interested in volunteering can fill out this form to participate. To donate building materials, email admin@teamhumanscale.org.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.