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Tips on garden design for people with sight loss

Garden layout can make a real difference to how you enjoy gardening. When thinking about the design of your garden and the planting scheme, try and choose plants that are easy to grow and don’t need much maintenance. Find out more about easy-care plants, plants that provide ground cover and east to grow shrubs, trees, perennials, annuals, bulbs in Thrive's plant guide

Layout

  • You’ll find your garden easier to manage and get around if it is laid out on the square, with straight paths and borders.
  • Landmarks around the garden are useful to help you find your way around. Shrubs or trees, scented or tactile plants, items such as benches, and sound – from rustling plants, running water, or wind chimes, can all help you find your way.
  • Avoid large lawns and lawns with sharply curved edges as they will be more time consuming to maintain. Consider having a semi-wild lawn with mown paths to save time and effort. 
  • Borders will be more manageable if you can reach across them easily.  So make your flower borders no more than 60cm (2 foot) wide if you have access from one side, or 120cm (4 foot) wide if you can reach from all sides. 
  • Containers and raised beds look attractive and are ideal if you want to start gardening on a small scale. A raised bed can be raised just a few inches, or could be at a comfortable height to use sitting down. Find out more about Raised beds 
  • Small water feature
    Planting in containers is a simple way of ensuring that your plants are easier to look after. You can vary the heights and bring the garden to the best level for you.
  • Ponds can be a delightful garden feature but be aware that maintaining a pond can involve heavy jobs like clearing weed, and open water can be a danger. A small raised pond might be safer and easier to maintain and it will be easier to enjoy sitting down than a ground level pond.
  • Why not look at installing a low maintenance water feature so you can enjoy the sound of flowing water?

 

Paths 

  • Barrow with a T shaped handle
    You’ll feel safer and will be able to get things done faster if all your paths are even, with a surface that gives good grip. You can mark any changes in the direction of your paths with a change in texture, or a change in colour, or with a marker like an ornament. 
  • Don’t let plants over-hang your paths.  Some visually impaired gardeners edge their borders with a low kerb that keeps soil in and is helpful if you use a cane. 
  • If you use a wheelchair or walking aid, paths in the garden and the greenhouse need to be wide enough and with ample turning room.
  • A 1m wide path is recommended as a minimum. Remember to allow enough space for turning – a manual wheelchair has a turning circle of 1.6m and a powered wheelchair may need as much as 2.4m.

 

Steps

  • Steps are a common hazard in gardens so consider replacing steps with a ramp. A ramp gradient of 1.15 is recommended as a general guide.
  • Both steps and ramps are easier to use if there is a sturdy handrail alongside. A handrail should begin at least a metre before the first step up or down. 
  • Some people find it helpful to highlight step and path edges and fencing with white paint.

 

Plants

  • Plant grasses for sound and touch
    Although scented plants are a bonus, don’t have too many, as a mass of scent might be confusing.
  • Many people with sight loss find they can still see yellow, white and blue flowers for longer than other colours.  See what colours work best for you. 
  • Plant pale coloured plants against a dark shrub, a fence or a dark coloured mulch, and they will stand out more.
  • Plant in blocks or lines to help you identify plants and to make more of a colour or scent impact in an area of the garden.
  • Choose plants that like the conditions for each area of your garden. They will need less attention to grow well. Try to select low maintenance plants and choose ground cover planting to reduce weeds. It also helps to choose plants that are easy to maintain, that are thornless and don’t need much pruning.
  • Espalier fruit is easy to reach
    Make sure that trees and shrubs are the right size for the space you have. This will save you having to prune and cut back as they grow. 
  • Get rid of plants that cause you problems – rampant growers, plants that take up too much space, are hazardous to you, or cast too much shade.
  • If you would like to grow fruit trees, choose espalier or cordon trained varieties. These grow at a lower level and within reach.
  • Hedges provide good screening in a garden but usually require cutting back. To make things easier, consider alternatives that are still wildlife-friendly, such as a wall or fence with climbing plants covering the surface.

 

Equipment and tools

  • Take time to choose any paving – it should be non-slip and non-glare.
  • Plan in water butts or stand pipes around the garden if you can to save effort when watering.
  • Always choose safe power sources for any power tools or mower that you might want to use. All electrical equipment should always be fitted with a residual circuit breaker.
  • Choose a composting system that suits you – there are many models and bins can be positioned at different heights to save bending.
  • Plan how you are going to move things around the garden. Twin-wheeled lightweight barrows, barrows to use one-handed, trolleys or flexible buckets are options that can save energy and strain.