Elements of Garden Design

The overall aesthetic effect of a garden upon your whole landscape is the result of several basic design principles, as well as the harmony – and sense of completion – that they manage to achieve together. There is no single “right” way to create that kind of visual harmony, because it will be, in large part, an expression of your own unique personality and taste. Think of your yard as your canvas, and the basic elements of good garden design – such as light, texture, color, line, form and balance – are the various paints on your palette.

pool-garden-design-2Form is usually the first principle to give consideration to, because it governs much of the visual impact of your garden as a whole. Also, it creates a structure within which the other elements can exist. Form includes the means of dividing space (like hedgerows and strips of groundcover), enclosing areas (fences and walls), and connecting different portions of a landscape (paths and walks). Form is the container that gives everything else a place to be. Also, it can suggest the logical placement of the other elements.

Once you have the overall form of your garden sketched out, either on paper or in your mind, consider then your line of sight. How do you want your garden to draw the eye? Generally speaking, an overall straight line design will suggest formality and order, whereas a curved or serpentine line of sight can be more relaxed, informal, and even eccentric. Vertical lines that stretch out ahead will draw the eye forward, whereas horizontal lines will encourage you to slow down and take in the sights gradually.

When thinking about the visual appeal that you want your garden to have, your basic tools are color and light. Color, along with texture, is probably the most personally expressive of all design principles. Instinct and individual taste are your best guides for how to use it to get the effect you want. Then, consider how light and shade will affect how colors look, both individually and taken all together. Bright light, for example, draws colors forth and makes those objects appear closer. Artificial lights serve various purposes, depending upon where they’re placed. Front lighting can highlight a dark area. Backlighting casts silhouettes. Side lighting can make garden paths safe to walk through at night.

Texture is the other prime aesthetic consideration, alongside color, and is likewise largely a matter of personal expression. Delicate textures, such as those of grasses and ferns, can soften edges and temper hard landscape lines such as walls. Coarse textures, like garden statues, can draw attention to an area by introducing contrast. Keep in mind, also, that texture has varying effects depending upon an object’s relationship to everything else in the garden. So, consider rhythm and repetition within your overall garden design. Modulating between prickly and smooth, between ripples and frills, can provide visual interest in every area, and achieve overall harmony amidst all those contrasts.

Garden design is a creative endeavor in which the combination of form, color and texture can produce nearly endless possibilities. Your final consideration, then, should be the overall balance that you can achieve with the elements that you’re working with. Is there equal emphasis throughout your garden, or is the eye predominantly drawn to one place? Do your plants and accents exist in fair proportion to one another, so that nothing dominates the scene? Is there enough rhythm and movement – through contrasting colors and/ or textures – to keep it interesting? These final questions will help you achieve a vision that feels complete and unified, where each part of your garden complements the whole.
By Seth Mullins