Designing a landscape for colour-blind people

Designing a landscape for colour-blind people

Picture of a waterfall

By Genevieve

People who are colour-blind make up about 8% of men and 0.5% of women, and of those people, the vast majority are not actually colour-blind, it's more that they see colours differently. Though we think of colour-blindness as seeing the world in black and white, the most common form of colour-blindness is where people have a weakness in the green receptors of their eyes. What would it be like to experience colour that way?

Bob Davis, a dear client whose landscape I designed last year, described it by asking me to imagine a continuum of yellow, green and blue. Along that continuum, most of us see any number of subtle shades of yellow, yellow-green, green, green-blue, and blue. Bob sees yellow, green and blue, period. So all those gently contrasting greens rolling through the garden, it's all pretty much the same colour.

In addition, many tones of red actually appear green to him, making what might otherwise be a bold contrast of red flower against green foliage, well, kind of lacklustre. Every spring, his wife Judy raves about the gorgeous red Camellia out back, but Bob just sees the same greenery he sees all year. He can make out the shapes of the flowers, but the colour contrast of red against green is lost on him.

Colour is the easy button for designing a garden. You come up with an awesome colour combo, and even if your textural contrasts aren't what they could be – eh, who's going to notice with all that splashy colour? Those of us who can see the full colour range notice colour first. But for people who see limited numbers of colours, composition and contrast become key.

Many people who are colour-blind in the most common ways can see a single shade of blue or yellow, plus black and white most vividly. Colours like red and green are visible, but often look alike or lack subtleties in tone, and for many people greens can take on kind of a muddy appearance. Pinks can be visible as pink, or can look more white or more red/green, while purples often look like a single shade of blue. Orange is often visible as a distinct colour, but is not necessarily the shade we'd expect.

Elements to focus on when designing a landscape for someone who is colour-blind:

  • Contrast (Try taking black and white photos of gardens you love and see how they hold up when their reliance on colour is taken away)
  • Light focal areas
  • Texture
  • Variegation (Bold outlines in white or gold, particularly on larger leaves where the contrast is evident, show up as brightly as flowers otherwise would)
  • Flower colour (White shows up with boldness against most types of foliage. Yellow and blue also show up boldly for people with the most common types of colour-blindness
  • Shapes
  • Size
  • Form (Contrast a stiffly upright plant with one that has a weeping character)
  • Big honking flowers
  • Layering and density
  • Composition
  • Structure the view
  • Motion
  • Attract wildlife
  • Sound (A trickling fountain, the rustle of trees or clumping bamboo and birds foraging)
  • Scent and taste (Lemon blossoms, jasmine, herbs, fruit trees and vegetables all help bring your senses into the moment).

Designing a garden for someone who is colour- blind isn't reducing enjoyment for anyone else, rather it's stealthily adding a whole new dimension of enjoyment.

Click here to read the full article and see pictures illustrating the techniques.

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