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Principles of Landscape Design

Using the principles of landscape design for your garden will help you create a pleasing landscape.

All of the principles of design work together to create a visual landscape that makes you feel relaxed, comfortable and at ease.

Since most people use their gardens as an area for entertaining or relaxing, this is very important. Who can relax when there is something glaring in the landscape that doesn't fit?


Proportion is the size of a plant or object in relation to everything around it.

When designing a landscape, you want to keep everything in relation to the size of the human body. This is your absolute scale.

When you choose your plants, trees, structures and ornaments, consider them in comparison to the human scale.

For example, a deck may be added to the garden. The deck needs to take into consideration its size compared to the amount of people that will enjoy it at any given time and also in comparison to the size of the house.

You don't want a tiny deck if you have a large house and expect ten or more people to be on the deck at any given time, but at the same time, a large deck may be overpowering attached to a small house with only two people expected to spend time there.

Plants should be considered proportionally, too. When the plants, the people and the house are all in proportion, you get a harmonious, balanced sense about the garden.

Proportion can also be applied to the amount of open space compared to the amount of planted space. Contrasting proportions between a large tree and a smaller shrub can work, as can a rhythm created through the repetition of several similar plants that are the same size.

Proportion also needs to be considered in the hardscape.

Benches, arbors, gazebos and pathways should be constructed to be the right size compared to the people and house in question. The void space also needs to be proportional.

Most people will feel more secure in a small open area than a very large one. This is one reason why decks and patios are so popular.

Many people feel more comfortable with the suggestion of a covering above them; this could be tree branches or the slats of a large trellis.

Order and Balance

Order deals with the organization or spatial layout of your landscape design. Balance is what helps achieve it. As the principles of landscape design go, this one can use all the elements of design to create it. Use the texture, form, color and size of your plants, structures and ornaments to create the design you want.

If you prefer a symmetrical look, you'll want to create a mirror image from one side to the other. This creates a formal sense balance. The viewer's mind will automatically divide the space to create an even distribution of objects or visual weight. Formal gardens always use a symmetrical order.

Asymmetrical balance is used in informal gardens that accentuate nature rather than order. In this type of garden, balance is achieved by creating equal visual weight, but using different forms, textures and colors on each side.

Don't forget about the perspective balance. This is where the designer balances the foreground, midground and background. Any composition should have objects in the foreground take precedence over background objects. Texture, size, and color can help achieve this in the landscape.

Another way to work with order and balance is to do a mass planting. In a mass planting, the plants are similar and arranged in groups around a central feature or space. This can be shrubs around a seating area or trees that shelter a water feature.


Repetition is an important part of the principles of landscape design. It is created by using the same elements or features over and over to create a pattern in the landscape.

A picket fence is a good example of repetition. Each picket is like the one before.

You can do this with structures, plants or ornaments. Alternating features in a pattern can be used to make it more interesting. Perhaps you want to plant shrubs with a round shape, but after every third one, you choose to plant one that is vase shaped instead.

Another way to make repetition more interesting is to use gradation. This makes your pattern gradually change. Perhaps it changes gradually in shape or size.

You also don't always have to use a pattern to repeat a motif. Perhaps you prefer to use the same form, color or texture throughout your landscape design. Repetition can be achieved by using the same type of plant, by using the same shape for your patio and lawn, using similar pots, and so on.

The idea is to repeat something throughout the design to bring it all together.


Unity brings everything together, and is considered a very important part of the principles of landscape design. Unity is what links your features and elements to create a consistent character. It makes everything harmonize with each other. By arranging your colors, forms and textures according to the elements and principles of design, you get a cohesive design. Every feature looks like it belongs.

Dominance or emphasis is what causes a plant or ornament to attract attention. This may be a brightly colored pot, a sculpture or a water feature. It draws the eye. Specimen plants can be used in this manner, too.

Another way to unify the garden is through interconnection. Hardscape can connect various features of the garden through a line, path or edging.

Grouping objects or plants by threes can also help. When you group items, always use an odd number to provide a stronger unification and balance. Staggering the height in these groupings will provide more visual interest. Most important, keep things simple. Too much complexity can appear chaotic.

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