Table of Contents
9 Principles of Landscape Design
To create a design that’s pleasing to the eyes, you must learn the basic elements behind the art of designing landscapes. These elements are the cornerstones of the most visually appealing gardens of the world. Here are nine principles of landscape design for creating a visual work of art:
Your landscape should provide a balance between its state of being and what you actually see. In the landscaping world, there are two common forms of balance:
- Symmetrical – Proportioned, even, equal
- Asymmetrical – Irregular, unequal, uneven
When there’s symmetrical balance, that means one side of the landscape mirror’s the opposite side. Lines and shapes are used to decorate planting beds, walkways and when pruning trees. Not only is this type of balance a bit boring, but it also takes a lot of hard work and maintenance to keep the symmetry intact.
Asymmetrical balance is a different story. These landscapes have balance, yet it’s much less formal. The visual styles of planting, pruning and adding appeal to the landscape differ from one area to the next.
In my opinion, asymmetrically balanced landscapes are much more free-flowing and provide a soothing feel. They are more inviting, pleasing to the eyes and draw onlookers in with their contrasts in color, shapes and planting styles.
Focalization, also known as the focal point, is the strongest aspect of your landscape design. It’s the place that attracts the eyes first. This could be an old oak tree, your tallest flowers, even a brightly colored raised garden bed. Last summer, in my backyard, it was my beautifully trellised Buttercup Squash, which quickly drew eyes away from my crappy 115-degree infested, desert grass.
Your landscape may have one central focal point, or there may be a different focal point dedicated to each individual area. However, don’t overuse them. This could make the landscape look visually junky or tacky. Here are some of the things that attract the eyes in landscapes:
- Bright, vivid colors
- Unique types of plants
- Sculptures or pieces of art
- Artistic, stylish architectural designs
Many professional landscapers stand by the idea of keeping things simple, versus messy and chaotic. They create visual style and appeal through complexity. I bet you’re thinking that these two are opposites. But they’re actually not.
Landscapes that make people feel comfortable and joyous add pops of color, curves, textures and shapes… but not too many. The key is to add complexity through the landscape's architectural design, lighting and water features. Just use your imagination.
4. Rhythm & Movement
Your landscape design needs rhythm, which is created when you repeatedly use one or more elements to create the feel and look of organized movement. Basic intervals are used within the design, which is usually space used to break up the design a bit. To create this rhythm, repeatedly use things like lamp posts, potted plants, garden beds, benches, groups of plants and other types of structures within the design itself.
Another way to create the feel of organized movement is with lines. They are created within hardscape features, such as sidewalks, walkways, pathways, the form and shape of your garden and flowerbeds and where the pavement and grass meet. All of this helps create a space filled with a sense of movement and a unique rhythm all your own.
Another one of the principles of landscape design is proportion. In the world of landscaping, this relates to the size relationship of all the greenery and features within the scenery. It’s about the size of the landscape’s elements and how they relate to each other.
Your landscape’s size and everything included within it should have a balanced look. For example, that huge, old oak tree, which is now taller than your house, will draw eyes away from all the other wonderful things in your yard.
Here are some factors to consider when thinking about proportion:
- Lot size
- Building size
- Plant size
- Open space
- Planting areas
Unity refers to the way various components of a design or work of art come together to create the feeling of harmony. Consider the following when thinking about landscape unity:
When there is unity, each individual part of the landscape all work together as a visually appealing team to create a design that looks complete. Here are some ideas for creating unity within your own landscape:
- Unified Space – Created when sizes, colors, textures and shapes work together
- Repetition – Colors and patterns can be repeated for visual style
- Special Features – Walkways, garden bed shapes, lighting and special elements should work together also
When it comes to landscaping, progression refers to how textures, shapes and plant sizes transition within your yard space. To create an appealing look, avoid sudden changes like planting a short plant right next to a tall one. Instead, make such changes gradually throughout the landscape.
Colors, shapes, forms and textures highlight areas of the landscape design. They give the landscape an interesting look, immediately drawing the eyes throughout the design.
Here are a few tips for creating emphasis in your yard:
- Specimen Plants – Should always standalone
- Primary Plants – Help soften the features of the landscape
- Accent Plants – Offer a “wow” factor and are meant to stand out
Include a variety of forms, sizes and shapes when choosing plants and features for a visually interesting landscape. Just remember, you want diversity with simplistic combinations.
7 DIY Landscape Design Principles for Home Gardens
Let’s discuss ways to design a landscape, creating a proportionate landscape and how to choose the right plants for your garden using these principles of landscape design for DIY gardeners:
1. Law of Significant Enclosure
According to the law of significant enclosure, humans feel enclosed or confined when a space’s vertical edge is no less than one-third of the inhabited horizontal space. For example, let’s say your patio space is 24 feet wide. Then, your hedges should be no less than eight feet tall.
This helps create a refuge… a space that makes you feel like you’re one with nature. Of course, there are times when you may have to break this law, especially if those hedges are being used to create privacy. Just do your best to establish a feeling of openness.
2. Regulating Line
The idea behind the regulating line model is that an architectural element or a unique feature can create an imaginary line that helps organize and connect the landscape design itself. These elements can be anything from the edge of a building to a doorway.
Founded using the core principles of geometry, regulating lines are vital when creating organized, cohesive outdoor spaces. This landscaping design concept adds order and harmony to your yard by using geometric proportions in the surrounding buildings or other large objects. They are used to create imaginary lines in a way that makes these elements cohesively relate to one another.
These imaginary lines help you visualize how individual components of the landscape relate to other components, as well as to the entire picture as a whole. Elements commonly used to establish regulating lines include:
- Property lines
- Dominating trees
- Edges of a buildings
3. Golden Rectangle
This principle of DIY landscape design helps establish eye-catching dimensions for terraces, flowerbeds, arbors, patios, decks, lawns and other elements within the yard. It’s a rectangle where the “ratio of the short side to the long side equals the ratio of the long side to the sum of both sides,” according to the Global Garden Lab.
Here’s the formula of the Golden Rectangle:
- A = Short Side
- B = Long Side
- (A/B) = (B/(A+B))
Personally, I didn’t know anything about this principle when I started my garden over a year ago. But now I understand why so many people choose to design garden beds that are five feet by eight feet.
4. Go Big
Size matters when it comes to sculpting and utilizing garden space. This is one of the principles of landscape design teaches us: when in doubt, go big with your features. Want a larger pool? Go for it. Thinking about installing large, picture windows? Why not? Want your walkway wider? Sounds like a great idea to me.
I remember my mother laughing at me when I put up my six-foot stakes for my cucumbers last summer. She insisted they would never grow that tall. Thankfully, I remembered that she’s never grown vertically in her life and ignored her because my cucs were to the top of those stakes at the end of the season.
5. Big to Small
Sow your seeds and transplant your plants from ‘big to small’ for an aesthetic look. From a design point of view, it’s logistically sensible. Imagine planting all your crops, then deciding you want to add a tree to the mix later. You may have to dig up an entire flowerbed or gardening space to plant it.
So, if you’re planning on planting something large, like a tree, start there and work your way down to the smaller plants. If that’s not possible right now, at least be sure to thoroughly plan out where it will go in your yard before creating raised beds and other gardening plots.
6. Mass Planting
According to world-famous British gardener, Russell Page:
The most striking and satisfying visual pleasure comes from the repetition or the massing of one simple element. Imagine the Parthenon with each column a different kind of marble!”
In other words, seeing one type of plant in quantities can be visually powerful. Some flowers that I believe simply must be mass planted to create a striking appeal include:
These days, with the economy the way it is, it’s important to cut costs. But when it comes to gardening and landscaping, there are just some things you can’t skimp on if you want quality and style. Look at it like this. Which is better?
- Planting a $1 plant in a $10 hole
- Planting a $10 plant in a $1 hole
The first one is my answer. No matter what you’re planting, it must be planted properly for your plants to thrive. An expensive pot won’t matter if the hole itself is not ready for plants. However, an inexpensive plant can thrive with no problems if the growing conditions are right.
These are the basic principles of planting crops:
- Plant at the proper depth
- Make sure the area gets full sunlight (six or more hours per day)
- Properly amend your soil
Planning Your Landscape Design
Giving your landscape a makeover may seem a bit intimidating. This is especially true if you’re planning a DIY landscape design project. But even if you choose to hire a professional landscaper, the way to get the best outcome is to come up with the perfect plan.
So, before you get started buying, constructing and planting, be sure to design your landscape first. Pull out some grid paper and use a pencil to draw circles that represent the sizes of each plant when they reach maturity. There are also some very effective computer programs and mobile apps you can use.
Some of these programs allow you to create designs using a grid. Then, they produce 3D images for you to view. Others allow you to add fountains, benches and other garden accessories, as well as various other hardscaping elements. Just remember your landscape is a work of art. So, be creative and be sure to incorporate these principles of landscape design.