Since the space that the garden occupies is three-dimensional, the
starting point of design is to get inside that space and create it
from within. Imagine being inside a piece of sculpture.
The developing space needs to evolve to accommodate the use, comfort
and pleasure of its creator. The design elements are then employed
to determine the way space will be perceived.
All artists- photographers, painters, weavers, sculptors…and yes,
garden-makers…use these same principles to create something magical.
Line is impressed upon all of us from earliest childhood --remember
defining objects with connect-the-dots drawings, or the burden of
having to carefully color inside the lines? Later one had to learn
to write letters on a straight line as well as discovering just what
the horizon line meant. In garden design, the form of a line creates
a sense of direction as well as a sense of movement. The eye
automatically follows a garden line, whether it be the edge of a
walkway, the curve of a flower bed, or the outline of plant materials.
The character of a line yields specific responses. Gentle, slow curves
and horizontal lines tend to be experienced as restful while jagged
diagonals or vertical lines create more excitement and tension.
Form, the shape defined by line, is probably the most enduring element
in garden design. It is what is seen when first looking at a garden
from a distance. Every plant has a distinct growth-habit, a unique mass
and volume which develops and changes as the plant matures. These shapes,
whether pyramidal, weeping, columnar, spreading, or round, divide and
define the spaces in the garden. Some forms are more dramatic than others
and so attract attention. The siting of a specific plant may block a view,
or open a sight-line, or alter the view depending on the maturity and
growth-habit of the plant--open or compact, herbaceous, evergreen or
deciduous. These plant qualities often change with the seasons and
restructure the lines of the garden. The form of the plants selected and
their placement are critical to creating comfortable, dynamic spaces and
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Texture in the garden creates sensual and visual excitement. It is generally
read as the mass and void of foliage, bark, or flowers and changes with the
light during the day and with the seasons. Up close, the size and shape of
the leaves and twigs become the predominant textural elements of a plant.
From a distance, it is the quality of light and shadow on the entire form,
the patterns of light and dark, that translates as texture. Rough, coarse
textures tend to create an informal mood and are visually dominant, while
fine, smooth textures are associated with formal, elegant, subdued moods and
are visually more passive. Fine-textured plants are visually translated as
being farther away, so fine textures can be a tool for providing a sense of
perspective in a small garden and making the space appear larger. On the
other hand, the predominance of coarse-textured plants make a garden space
appear smaller. Strong textural contrasts add drama and interest to a garden.
Bark and foliage are two ways of adding textural interest to any space.
Foliage and Spring flowers, with both textural and color interest, are shown
in a May garden.........
Scent in a garden is often neglected. Introducing a variety of fragrances will
bring an extra dimension to the garden by expanding sensory awareness. If the
garden is exposed fragrant plants may need to be located in a sheltered location.
The scent of delicately fragrant plants is also more appreciated if they are
located near a path or at the edge of a patio or entry area. Specific fragrances,
like colors, evoke emotional responses and can help create a certain mood or sense
of time in the garden.
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Color is often a confusing and puzzling design element for many gardeners. On the
other hand it seems to be the one and only element some gardeners consider when
planning a garden. Although color is a key element in the design of a garden,
many give it too great an importance and fret continually about the often complex
rules which some designers have propounded. One of the following three widely
employed formulas for planning color in the garden are best used:
1. Design in a green monotone with only an occasional splash of another color,
as exemplified in traditional Japanese gardens.
2. Translate from nature, using harmonies of colors, or kaleidoscopic patterns
as might be found in a wildflower meadow.
3. Use the artist's color wheel and paint pictures in the palette-gardening
approach made famous by Gertrude Jekyll.
The gardener's final choice of a formula is dictated by location, the size
of the garden, and the kind of garden wanted. Living in the countryside
just outside of Portland, Oregon, I prefer to translate from nature so that
my garden blends in with the natural beauty of the area. But since I also
have acres of ground at my disposal I have room for many flower and mixed
borders. In designing them I develop specific color schemes using the palette
approach, creating for example, a white garden or a blue border. Generally,
the more area to be dealt with the more complex the color scheme can be. A
garden created in limited space will be more dramatic if the color scheme is
kept as simple as possible.
Research has identified the emotional responses specific colors typically
generate. The bright reds, yellows, and oranges tend to excite. The softer
blues, pinks, greens, and violets produce a calming, tranquil effect. This
is one reason why the monochromatic green gardens of the Japanese are so
revered. The 'music of the color green' is a phrase often heard in reference
to the basic garden color green broken into numerous tones ranging from
blue-green to yellow-green . White tends to be the great unifier, providing
a neutral, yet somewhat uplifting spirit. Gardeners need to employ an
awareness of color responses when planning the functional needs of garden
spaces. In general, warm colors -red, yellow, orange- attract the eye,
standing out or advancing. Cool colors -blues, most violets and some greens-
recede into the landscape. Color therefore contributes to a sense of depth
by defining spatial relationships. Remember too that colors in the landscape
are not static, changing with the time of day, cloud cover, and season. Color
intensity directly relates to the amount of reflected light. Flower color is
transient, while foliage, bark, seed pods, and berries provide color highlights
and interest at other times of the year, so must loom large in design
To create a garden space satisfying to the senses and imparting a feeling of
unity with the environment, gardeners must also consider six basic principles
of design: repetition, variety, balance, emphasis, sequence, and scale.
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Repetition is the continuing thread in a garden and is generally defined as
duplication. When any design element is repeated the mind is better able to
understand the composition as a whole and so a sense of order is introduced..
It is the qualities or character of an object--line, form, texture, scent or
color- that are usually repeated. Repeating finely textured plants in a garden
helps to unify the design and impart a powerful sense of simplicity. Repetition
is simply a matter of holding one design quality constant while varying the
others. A word of caution: If repetition is carried to extremes the garden will
become either monotonous or so subtle that the viewer only sees disorder.
Variety is the life of the garden. The design qualities of line, form, texture,
scent, and color are changed and contrasted to provide diversity and avoid
uniformity. Diversity develops a tension which helps to hold the observer's
attention while creating excitement and enjoyment. Variety is the opposite of
repetition. But when it is overdone by adding too many elements, chaos results,
so a very fine balance between repetition and variety is needed to achieve unity
in a landscape.
Balance refers to the stability or repose of the garden, and is realized by
creating an equilibrium between the parts that make up the whole. Line, form,
texture, scent, and color all attract our attention so these sensual energies
must be gauged and then balanced out. One form of balance relates to layout
along a preconceived central axis. That axis can either be informal or formal
in its arrangement. Formal or symmetrical arrangements are exactly the same on
either side of the axis, while informal or asymmetrical arrangements are unlike
on either side of the axis. Another way of conceiving an axis is in the vertical
dimension. Natural, informal landscapes which are increasingly popular, depend
upon balancing vertical and horizontal elements or small, dense masses balancing
large, diffuse groupings. In all cases the elements being balanced must both hold
the same importance in the eye.
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Emphasis refers to those garden elements which initially seize attention and to
which the eye continually returns. It is the creation of the more important and
the less important elements in the garden. The parts of any composition should
not be equal in their visual interest. Certain parts should be different, perhaps
larger, of a contrasting color, form, fragrance, or texture than the rest,
depending on the function of the design. Again, if too many elements are introduced
the effect is lost. Emphasis can be achieved only by limiting the number of dominant
Sequence is the movement of the garden. It is the rhythms that develop when line,
form, texture, and color are changed in a consistent way to lead in a particular
direction or to a point of focus. Sequence helps to connect the various design
elements. It can be achieved through repetition, being careful to avoid a
monotonous repeat; or by progression, such as using textures in graded steps from
fine to coarse; or by alternation, a repetition of two or more contrasting features.
Scale within the garden, as distinct from the overall scale of the garden as discussed
earlier, refers to the harmony of the garden. That is, all the elements of a garden
should agree in the sense they convey of the size of the whole. The actual size of an
object is different from its relative scale or proportion in relation to other
neighboring objects. So scale is concerned with the relationship between the size of
an object to the size of the other objects within the same composition. Thus, a tiny
alpine plant is out of scale among tall trees, just as it would be planted next to a
With these general principles in mind, applied in connection with the elements of line,
form, texture, scent, and color, a simple garden space can become a work of art.
DESIGN PRINCIPLES IN GARDEN-MAKING
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The Encyclopedia of Life
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