Saturday, September 11, 2010

Elements of Landscape Design

Tired of mowing and weeding that patch of lawn in your backyard? Or maybe you've been staring at another patch of lawn thinking, I'd sure love to have a flower bed in that spot. Then questions start to flood your mind, and you become overwhelmed with the thought of it, so you just crank up the mower one more time.

Well, there's no better time than the fall to plan, prepare, and plant a new bed. Most of us want to skip the first two steps and just get to the plants! Long before we ever stick one plant in the ground, though, we need to have a plan, a landscape design. But wait, you say, I'm not a landscape designer! How do I get started?

In an attempt to take away the fear of the unknown, I'd like to share some of the basic elements that go into creating a landscape design. According to horticulturist and author Greg Grant, the five essential elements of landscape design are scale, balance, dominance, unity, and repetition.  Those may sound like a lot of fancy and scary words, but here's my take on them.

Scale means keeping the plant material in proportion to the size of the beds and surrounding structures. Translation: Don't plant small plants in large spaces or next to large structures and don't plant large plants in small spaces. Be sure to consider the mature size of the plants. A one-gallon shrub may look like the proper scale in a small space, but how will it look when it is full grown?

Balance refers to the visual "weight" of the plant material from one area of the landscape to another; i.e., don't plant all of the large plants on one end of the design and all of the small plants on the other side. Visually draw a line down the middle of a space and balance the plant material on each side of that imaginary line.

Dominance is another way of saying "focal point," a feature (or plant) in your garden that you want to take center stage. What do you want your eye to be drawn to in a particular space?

Unity is the landscape as a whole working together, different elements of the garden, but all flowing together in harmony. Maybe another way to say it is that your garden has a "theme." For instance, a mophead hydrangea would look out of place in the middle of a xeriscape garden (not to mention probably dead!)

• And lastly, but certainly not least, is repetition. Repetition is rather self-explanatory. It just means repeating certain elements of the design throughout the landscape; repeating forms, textures, colors, sizes, or plant materials. We've all seen gardens where only one type of each plant has been planted, giving it that busy "confetti" look. Repetition of plant material, on the other hand, helps to create unity in your garden. And I say, hey, if you find a plant that works well in your garden, just use more of it in different areas of your garden, and voila, you've got repetition...and unity. See? That wasn't so scary now, was it?

As you visit other gardens (or look at your own), see if you can spot these elements of landscape design. Start gathering ideas and inspiration for your next garden project -- and maybe you'll be able to put that mower to rest after all.

Happy Gardening...

Toni Moorehead


  1. Fire Dragon chantung Maple looks like a GREAT tree! I'm so excited to plant one (or even two), but Mom want's your eyes to help us know the best location.

  2. My arm doesn't work, but my eyes still do, so I'll be glad to help find the best location. Just holler at me when you're ready.

  3. sounds good - Dad and I are putting in a 'better' flowing french drain. I voted to just dig a dich, but ;) .... Do you have a sod cuter - com over and get this St. Augustine WEED out of here! That way when I'm done diggin in the dirt with this drain I can seed with A REAL GRASS! ;)

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