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Contributing Editor:
John A. Morley N.P.D., B.Sc.,  M.Sc.

 

  

BASIC PRINCIPLES AND ELEMENTS OF LANDSCAPE DESIGN

Simplicity is the essence of design. This is an objective that I have always tried to achieve in all of my previous residential, commercial, institutional and recreational projects. How a designer creatively combines plant material and other design components into a simple, unified scheme is always an exciting challenge.

Simplicity is the essence of design.

In the landscape palette, the designer is dealing with living plants that are subject to a myriad of weather conditions, different soil types, insect and disease problems, and a host of other environmental and physical circumstances. The landscape artist must deal with plants that celebrate the seasons with the unfurling of leaves in spring, the aroma and visual delight of ephemeral flowers, and the bareness of branches in winter. Change in the landscape is never constant as the seasons come and go. How the designer successfully combines plants and other material components in the Landscape Planting Plan involves paying careful attention to detail, a thorough knowledge of practical horticulture, and a good understanding of the basic principles and elements of design. The designer faces the challenge of creating a plan that is pleasing to the senses and that visually, functionally and aesthetically improves the appearance of the landscape at an affordable cost.

             

Chaenomeles Japonica (Japanese Flowering Quince) Seasonal design considerations.

 

Viburnum opulus (European Highbush Cranberry) Winter fruit is an important design consideration.

 

LINE

In curvilinear design, lines should be dramatic, done with a sense of flamboyancy and be very expressive in their shape. Curvilinear lines that have weak, scallopy edges will not be visually interesting or pleasing to the eye. Curvilinear, meandering lines suggest a naturalistic look that invites the user to casually stroll through and experience the landscape.

Effective use of circulinear line form.... Vancouver Parks Board.

On the other hand, linear lines such as those found in a straight hedge or the edges of paving materials suggest quick, direct movement. Angled lines can create opportunities for creating the "bones or the framework of the landscape". Lines that interconnect at right angles create an opportunity for reflection, stopping or sitting.

Weak, scallopy edges leave a lot to be desired.

Through skillful use of lines in the landscape, the designer is able to direct the attention of the viewer to a focal point.

Linear / curvilinear lines at Sissinghurst.

 

FOCAL POINT OR EMPHASIS

Through the use of emphasis, eye movement is directed towards a center of interest that takes a position of prominence in the landscape. This could be a single tree, a beautifully designed water feature, a piece of sculpture, or a collection of ericaceous plants that automatically draw the eye to this point of interest. Open lawn areas, paths and strategically placed plants can lead the eye to the principal feature without distraction. Plantings should be placed to easily lead the eye to this center of heightened interest.

Sculpture / maze garden in Japan. Elevated pieces of sculpture create emphasis in the landscape.

Secondary features of landscape interest can also be created. In this case, while this components are beneficial in contributing to the unity of the site and tying the total composition of the site together, they have considerably less overall impact than the focal point.

 

FORM

Form relates to the natural shape of the plant. For example, a plant that is very fastigiate or upright in its habit of growth is said to have a vertical or aspiring form. Ginkgo biloba "Princeton Sentry"- Princeton Sentry Ginkgo- is a good example of this form.

Other plants that are spreading in their habit of growth are said to have a horizontal or spreading form. A shrub example of this form is Taxus x media "Hillii"-Hill’s Yew- and a tree example is Quercus palustris- Pin Oak. The Hill’s Yew could be effectively used as a hedge to provide special definition between two properties. When horizontal forms are placed together as is the case in the hedge, the individual vertical forms take on a horizontal profile.

Weeping, drooping of pendulous forms can also be used to create softer lines or as interesting accents in the garden. Fagus sylvatica "Purple Fountain" – Purple fountain Beech- is an excellent example of this form.

A magnificent example of Fagus sylyatica 'Pendula' (European Weeping Beech).

 

There are also rounded or globular forms that are useful in creating large masses. The majority of shrubs fall into this category.

TEXTURE

Texture relates to the coarseness or fineness of a leaf, roughness or smoothness of the bark, heaviness or lightness of the foliage or other components used in the landscape plan. In terms of plants, the large, glossy leaves of Bergenia cordifolia "Bressingham Ruby"- Bressingham Ruby Bergenia- make it a coarse textured plant when compared to the medium textured plant Pachysandra terminalis- Japanese Spurge- used adjacent to fine textured grass.

                     

Ornamental grasses and herbs are complimentary in texture.

 

Ostrya virginiana (Ironwood) A native tree that exhibits excellent texture.

 

When using ornamental grasses for example, a gradation of textures from fine to medium to coarse could be as follows:

1. Festuca glauca "Elijah Blue"- Blue Festuca Grass

2. Deschampsia caespitosa- Tufted Hair Grass

3. Calamagrostis x acutiflora "Karl Forester"- Feather Reed Grass

Texture in the landscape depends upon the distance from which the plant is viewed by the observer. In distant views, the overall mass of the plant is the dominating feature and the fineness or softness of a leaf or branching pattern is lost.

Fagus grandifolia (American Beech) smooth bark texture.

In terms of the overall planting plan, texture must balance in relationship to the axis. Weight on one side should equal the mass on the other side of the axis. For example, much fine texture- as the case would be in using Buxus- is required to balance relatively little coarse texture, as the case would be in the use of Viburnum rhytidophyllum, the Leatherleaf Viburnum. Intermediate plants are recommended to provide the necessary transition from one textural extreme to the other.

 

COLOUR

Colour theory is a very complex and very personal matter that expresses individual taste and feelings.

              

Vigorously use colour in the landscape.

 

Warm colours advance...Salt Lake City, Utah.

Warm colours such as reds, oranges and yellows tend to advance towards to viewer while blues, violets and greens tend to recede into the landscape. Warm colours read well and affect the eye more quickly than do cool colours. When using warm colours, they should be used in sequence which must be smooth and gradual. For example, red to scarlet to orange scarlet to orange to bronze to orange yellow to yellow to pale yellow to cream to white.

Consideration of the use of colour in plantings requires a thorough, practical understanding of the personality of the plants. To vigorously use colour and effective colour combinations requires a thorough knowledge of plants, their colours and seasonal changes with detail of twig, leaf, flower and fruit as well as principles of colour.

 

BALANCE

Balance is either formal (symmetrical) or informal (asymmetrical) in nature. In formal balance, the mass or weight or numbers of objects on either side of a central axis should be exactly the same. Plants are frequently clipped, lines tend to be straight, and edges are clearly defined. For asymmetrical balance, plants should be irregularly placed on either side of an imaginary axis so that the mass or weight on either side of the axis appears to be balanced. Curved lines, obscure and merging edges and natural contours identify asymmetry in the garden.

Informal balance...Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

 

REPETITION

By repetitiously using identical or similar components elsewhere in the landscape, the designer is able to achieve a unified planting scheme. However, it is important not to excessively use any materials too frequently as this could lead to monotony. A delicate balance is necessary to achieve a design that is visually, functionally and aesthetically attractive.

         

Repetition of diamond flagstones creates movement in paving pattern.   The repetitious use of paving stone creates unity in the landscape.

 

VARIETY

It has oftentimes been said that "variety is the spice of life". In terms of landscape, it is often important to remember that a variety of lines, forms, textures and colours is required in order to achieve an interesting landscape. Without variety in both the use of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ landscape materials, this can lead to unfavourable results.

A variety of forms creates significant landscape interest.

 

GROUPING

Much greater appeal is achieved when odd numbers of plants are used in the landscape. Groupings of three, five, seven, nine plants etc., will create a strong feeling of mass and a bold landscape statement. Plants should be irregularly spaced and every effort should be made to avoid placement of plants in an equilateral triangle. When grouping, a designer usually starts with a specimen that establishes the scale of the landscape. Around it are grouped slightly less important plants which complement the specimen in colour, texture and habit of growth. Planting one of this and one of that will create a spotty disjointed feeling.

 

MASS

Made up of plants that cannot be seen in their entirety from any one vantage point. Seasonal stability and variety in plant mass is accomplished through a mix of evergreens and deciduous plants. Only rarely should a design consist exclusively of evergreens or deciduous material instead of a mixture of both.

Mass planting of groundcovers for slope stabilization.... Seattle, Washington.

To create a harmonious effect in any group, a designer should strive to properly fit together plant forms, textures and colours into a harmonious whole or mass. Size of any mass or composition depends upon its location in relationship to other factors such as the need for screening, proximity to other groups, etc. Mass can be any size, but smaller masses or clumps are not normally as effective as larger, bolder mass plantings.

 

SCALE AND PROPORTION

Good proportion and scale have no hard and fast rules. Generally speaking, it is a matter of "does it look right?" Scale usually bears reference to the size of a thing or object that appears to have a pleasing relationship to other things or to the design as a whole. It essentially relates to some finite measure of universal application or a standard of known dimension.

This moon gate is in perfect proportion to its setting.

Proportion is the relationship of the width to the length of an area or the relationship to parts of an organization.

 

RHYTHM

Rhythm is expressed through the placement of plants, park furniture, etc., either individually or as group. For example, several benches could be placed at regular indentations along a shrub border. If every other bench was replaced with an attractive piece of sculpture, rhythm would be created that would relieve any monotony from the overuse of one landscape component.

Repetitious use of sculpture in landscape reduces monotony and results in the establishment of rhythm.

 

SEQUENCE

The effective use of sequence is oftentimes employed to create visual movement in the landscape. It is an important consideration to take into account in the development of the overall planting pattern. For example, sequence could be an orderly natural combination of plant material. In this case, low objects would appear in the foreground, intermediate objects in the middle ground, and tall objects in the background.

An orderly, sequential arrangement of heights.

Triggered by the term "experience", how effectively the designer addresses people’s needs and the functional requirements of the site, considers ongoing maintenance requirements and the selection of appropriate plants, efficiency and economics will all combine to measure the aesthetic success of the project. All of the above must be carefully woven together to create an outdoor room that is truly pleasurable and enjoyable on a year round basis. Celebrate the seasons in style. Start the most fascinating of the fine arts by developing a garden that takes into account the above principles and elements of design.

 

 

John A. Morley

Editor

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