Americans like to work in the garden to relax and reduce stress, according to a research study done by the American Horticultural Society. But it is difficult to plant a garden from a wheelchair.

Using horticulture as therapy for people with physical, emotional or mental disabilities can improve self-esteem while developing skills to lead more independent lives.

"While gardening, you're sublimating all your anxieties and releasing tensions," said Richard Mattson, professor of horticulture therapy at Kansas State University. "Our research has shown significant reductions in indicators of stress, such as high blood pressure, when gardening."

To make gardens accessible to disabled people, seeds should be planted in raised beds or in large containers. "The soil is placed in a large container, such as a washing machine drum, which is raised up with cement blocks or 2-by-4 pieces of wood," Mattson said.

Planning walkways with enough traction and using adaptive tools such as spades and trowels with variable-length handles are important when designing the garden.

For copies of the pamphlets "A Guide to Gardening for People With Special Needs" and "The Enabling Garden," send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: National Council for Therapy and Rehabilitation through Horticulture, 9220 Wightman Rd., Suite 300, Gaithersburg, Md. Additionally, the C. Melvin Sharp Health School, 4300 13th St. NW, uses horticultural therapy for handicapped children. Call 576-6161.