If you’re newer to landscaping or just want to dive deeper into the actual principles of landscaping design work, then this is for you. We will help you start to understand the basics of landscaping design work and things to consider as you work in your own spaces.
You may want to find some good landscaping design software to help along your journey, but we also recommend digging deeper into principles that intrigue you or that don’t quite “click” for you. Enjoy and explore the ideas below as you learn.
Unity is, in many areas of life, a basic principle for comfort, ease, and acceptance. In the case of landscaping, repetition and consistency in design is a part of this unity. But even if you’re working in a somewhat cluttered or disorganized space, unity can still be achieved.
Think about unity as the thread of the theme that pulls everything together. When you walk into a hotel room, for example, can you spot the unifying features or the discrepancies that make the space feel a bit “off”? Unity is the part of the space – indoors or out – that makes a space simply feel “right” – often by consistent color plans, similar motifs, or even furniture styles that match and blend well.
Simplicity is a principle most of us, if not all of us, already know is part of the magic of a beautiful space. That isn’t necessarily minimalism – but it is that a garden design isn’t too overcrowded physically or figuratively. You can have consistency but still have clutter.
As you design your landscaping project, instead of thinking about all the things you love at once, narrow the list down and consider one or two features that matter most and base your design around these things. This is simplicity at its finest.
Similar to unity is interconnection. Interconnection is the principle that all things in a singular space are somehow connected to one another. Often, this is seen through designs using the idea of a unity of three. That is, features that are grouped in threes (or odd numbers) help to create a visual balance. Two objects (say, two shrubs) work well to balance a space only if there is something between – like a pathway or gate. This is a grouping of three.
These things are all connected to each other, creating the feeling of unity and interconnectedness by belonging together.
Another basic principle of landscape design is order. There is a certain order (organization) to things as they are placed. This order balances things out, fills out a three-dimensional arrangement, and embraces symmetry for aesthetic purposes.
Color scheme for some is the most important part of landscaping. Planning the colors you use (even if it’s a mixture of all the colors!) adds depth and order to your space without extra effort.
As you plan, do consider color theory, as well. Warm, bright colors (reds, oranges, yellows) almost seem to come straight at you. These are very bold, alluring colors. Cool colors on the other hand (blues, purples, greens) are much more subtle and subdued. These work for outdoor spaces where quiet is being sought.
Balance is the sense of equality in your designed space. There are two forms of this balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Both are intentional, and both serve different purposes. Symmetrical design gives an identical, orderly sense of balance. Asymmetrical design still has balance, but it feels more whimsical, casual, and relaxed.
Proportion is another design principle that is quite important to remember but easy to overlook initially as you design. This principle refers to the size of the elements you’re using. That is, if you’re planning to use a large boulder, the other boulders or rocks around it should proportionately meet that design scheme. Small rocks will feel like a “touch” to the landscaping design, whereas larger rocks will add intentional counters to the large boulder you’ve centered on.
Another important design principle to consider is one that a lot of us tend to forget: functionality. There is nothing wrong – and in fact, it’s good! – to have your landscaping pull double-duty. Combining beauty with functionality is a great way to make your landscaping project all you really want it to be.
Using existing features in the space or adding functional elements (benches, trellis that support the plants, adding a patio, using your retaining wall as a garden bed, adding in a wall of cacti for a privacy “fence”) is the perfect way to find this functionality in your space.
Pattern or Repetition
Repetition is one of the most easily recognized design principles in landscape design. Repetition creates patterns and this, in turn, creates unity, balance, and interconnectedness. They are not mutually exclusive, however.
There are different types of repetition to consider using in your design. Subtle repetition does not allow the use of the same plants all throughout the space. Alteration means alternating between two, three, or more types of elements throughout the space, consistently. And gradation means using a feature’s characteristics to make repetition more interesting. For example, gradation might be planting roses from light to dark pink in order. Or it might be shifting elements in the space from largest to smallest.
Dominance and Focal Point
In this image, there is no denying what the focal point(s) is. The large pot in the center of the grassy patch in the walkway, with the distinct gate as a backdrop draws the eye instantly. And that is what dominance and focal point are all about.
If you’ve ever walked through a garden space and felt it was messy or disheveled, but you couldn’t figure out why, likely it’s because there was nothing dominant inserted into the space as a focal point.
Whatever the main focal point of the space is, it will automatically dominate the landscape design. It’s important, therefore, to be intentional with this focal point. This can be a large boulder, a pot like in this image, a fountain, a bench, even distinct plants or trees – anything you like. But it must draw the eye. As you design the space, we recommend you put that focal piece into the design and make sure your eye is automatically drawn to it. If it’s not, consider placing it elsewhere and moving it again and again, as needed, until you hit that sweet spot where all attention goes straight to that centerpiece.
Applying the Principles for Success
Okay, so knowing the landscaping design principles is great, but unless you apply them, they won’t do you much good. How then, do you proceed? Don’t stress too much. It’s easier and more natural than you’d expect.
Begin with the focal point, color scheme, and a sense of proportion that you’re going for. From these key principles, build out into the unity, simplicity, interconnection, and other points. As you do so, you’ll discover the landscaping project falls into place. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to design, though. A rushed space will look like it!