Designing for the colour blind

…or more accurately; those with Colour Vision Deficiency (CVD)

This is not something you might automatically think about, but it’s an example of a specific requirement clients may have, and which garden designers will need to consider.

The organisation Colour Blind Awareness say the most common form of CVD is red-green, where sufferers have difficulty distinguishing between reds, oranges, yellows, greens and browns, which all appear dull. This will obviously have an impact on the plants chosen for a client. I have a close family member with what appears to be red-green CVD. Contrary to the description above, he sees yellow clearly (and as yellow is his favourite colour, plants with yellow flowers are an absolute banker).

Reds and greens are a definite problem though, highlighted very well when recently he was bemoaning the lack of blooms on a rose bush given to him by a friend. The plant was, in fact, covered in what appeared to the rest of us as very vibrant, orange/red roses that stood out clearly from the green foliage.

There are other forms of colour blindness, and because people see colours differently, when choosing plants the best approach is to test which colours show up best for the client. A garden designer will always ask for colour preferences in the initial consultation, but for a client with CVD, it makes sense to show them examples, rather than rely on words to describe colours.

In the case of my family member, I was quite surprised to discover that the colour which shows up most brightly is a mid-pale pink, specifically in the form of a geranium – Geranium x oxonianum ‘Wargrave Pink’.

Of course, when designing a garden for more than one person, where one of them has CVD, there may be a conflict in colour preferences (though there are often conflicts even where there is no CVD!) In this case, I would say choosing colours that stand out for the client with CVD should be the priority – the colours you choose for them may not be favourites of other garden users, but at least everyone will be able to see them! And there should still be room in the design for a few specimens in the favourite colours of the client that isn’t colour-blind, even if they don’t stand out for the client who is.