How Landscaping Principles Work

Man working in flower garden.
Man working in flower garden. See more pictures of perennial flowers.
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­It seems like everyone in your new neighborhood has pristine, manicured lawns and professional landscapes abounding with color and texture. You want to have a similarly lovely yard, but after purchasing your home, there's no money left in your budget for a landscape architect and a professional landscape installation. OK so you can't budget the funds, but can you budget the time­ to do something yourself? If your answer is yes, you just might be able to create a lush, inviting garden on your own.

­The truth is, some landscaping techniques are straightforward enough for you to implement ­on your own lawn. You simply need to acquire an understanding of these basic principles and be willing to put in the time and effort. Beyond the rigorous physical labor of landscaping your own lawn, there lies an equally challenging mental and creative task. To produce an aesthetically pleasing landscape design you must first envision exactly what it is you'd like to create. A well thought out design is the result of careful planning and consideration of plant life, cost and maintenance.


The design you develop will only be as good as your imagination, the thoroughness of your planning, and your mastery of landscaping principles. The main principles you'll want to take into account are:

  • landscaping around a focal point
  • landscaping texture
  • landscaping color
  • landscaping scale and proportion
  • landscaping grouping
  • landscaping repetition, rhythm and sequence

Read on to read about landscaping around a focal point.


Landscaping Around a Focal Point

­When you begin planning a landscape design, a good place to start is with the focal point. A focal point is a component­ of your design intended to attract a great deal of interest from lookers-on. Depending of the size of your design, you may decide to have one focal point; however, if you are breaking ground on a larger design, you'll likely want to have multiple focal points. Focal points can be naturally occurring elements of the landscape that you incorporate into your design and build from, or they can be strategically placed to create the perfect aesthetic.

There are many methods used to create a focal point, some of which are described in more detail in the following pages. Most methods rely on a sense of contrast. Whether the contrast is realized by using principles such as color, shape, texture or size is up to the designer. An often-utilized method of combining the necessary sense of contrast and a high level of usability is by integrating non-natural objects into a landscape otherwise made up of natural components.


Perhaps the most popular method used to cre­ate the contrast of natural and non-natural elements is the implementation of benches or bench-swings into the design. Often combined with another landscaping principle, this method generates an intriguing focal point and creates a comfortable vantage point from which to view the beautiful results of your design and labor. In addition to benches and bench swings, other non-natural objects often used in landscape design include bird baths, bird feeders, statues, trellises and arbors [source: My Ideal Garden].

Now let's look at the importance of texture in landscaping.


Landscaping Texture

While benches, statues, bird bathes and other non-natural items may provide an alluring sense of usability and contrast in your design, another principle that can be manipulated to create a similar sense of contrast is texture. When planning for texture, you must consider what kinds of plants will be used in your design, how they will be grouped, and how they will affect the other designing principles in your landscape.

­Specifically, texture refers to the shape, size, coarseness or smoothness and weight of the foliage - usually leaves or bark. While texture can be used to create the sense of contrast often used to present a focal point, it can also be used as a complementary principle away from any focal points. When used in a complementary manner, the principle of texture is often used to provide a sense of balance and symmetry, or to illustrate the diversity of plant types included in your landscape design.


Texture can also be categorized by the shade or tint of the leaf or bark's color, as well as the leaf's thickness. It is a general rule in landscape design that more plants with fine textures should be used in comparison to those with more coarse textures. Following this simple rule when selecting plants for your landscape design will ensure an aesthetically attractive appearance [source: Boulden].

When considering texture, it is easy to be hung up on the details without remembering that texture perception is dependent on how far away the observer is from the plants. To produce a truly nuanced landscaping design, it is important to reflect on how the principle of texture will be perceived from multiple vantage points [source: Morley].

Think your landscape is just green? Think again. Read on to find out about landscaping color.


Landscaping Color

Perhaps one of the more important principles to think about when planning your landscape design is color. As mentioned previously, color can be used to generate the contrast needed to create a focal point. Additionally, the principle of color, like that of texture, can be used as a secondary design tool to develop a complex, layered aesthetic. When planning your landscaping project make sure to remember to plan for the various changes in colors that your selected plants will make throughout the year.

­In design, color is primarily conveyed in terms of the color wheel. The color wheel is a reference that separates colors onto schemes and grou­ps based on tint, shade and compatibility. Red, blue and yellow are primary colors, while green, purple and orange are secondary colors (colors that can be created by mixing two primary colors). Tertiary colors are created when one primary color and one secondary color are combined.


When creating your landscape design, your primary concern will be utilizing the color schemes of the color wheel to present the most visually pleasing appearance. The color wheel presents three major color schemes -- monochromatic, analogous and complementary. A monochromatic color scheme is achieved when using various tints and shades of one color. An analogous color scheme uses colors that are side by side on the color wheel. A complementary color scheme consists of colors opposite each other on the color wheel [source: Ingram].

Much like the principle of texture, it is a generally established rule in landscape design that more light colors should be used than dark in order to better attract the eye.

Read the next page to discover what landscaping scale and proportion entails.


Landscaping Scale and Proportion

­When you are considering different features for your lawn and gardens, it is important to understand that each element is part of the whole, thus proportion is a principle to keep in mind. You may have a small lawn, or you may have a large garden, but each element needs to match in scale and proportion to the surrounding pieces.

You should keep in mind these three aspects of measurement when picking out plants and other objects to place into your lawn: length, width/breadth and height/depth. Noting these general measurements will help you avoid picking out disproportioned things for your yard. For example, you would want to avoid setting a large fountain in the middle of a small garden, just as you would want to avoid setting a small rock alone in a widespread lawn. The first would be a mistake because the fountain would go beyond being a focal point to being a distraction, taking an onlooker's attention away from any other aspects of the garden. The second would be a mistake because the small rock, without any other similar elements nearby, would probably go unnoticed.


As much as you want to make sure nothing is drastically out of proportion or off-scale to the general theme of your lawn or garden, you also want to stray away from making your garden contain the same sized features all in a row. This would be boring and signal a lack of imagination and creativity on your part.

Read on to get an understanding of what landscape grouping means, and how to apply it to your lawn or garden.


Landscape Grouping

Grouping is a landscaping principle that insists an observer will get the most visual pleasure from a given landscape if the pieces are placed in clusters. It takes into consideration several of the principles discussed previously. For instance, you may want to start with a focal point, or one object that serves as the scale for the rest of your landscaping elements.

­Let's pretend you want to have a grouping of coniferous plants. Maybe you would want to establish the area with a full pine tree such as a Mugo pine and then surround that tree with an even number of dwarf and slow-growing conifers that can complement it. Numbers matter to the overall picture, since landscaping experts suggest you group elements in odd numbers [source: Morley].


Once you have a grounding point in a grouping, you will want to consider the other aspects mentioned on previous pages, such as color and texture. When you are grouping, you want to have related objects in an area. That's the point of grouping things together: clusters give you a sense of unity and completeness, rather than dissonance.

When grouping elements for your garden or lawn, it is essential to remember to group them in a natural, soft pattern. You do not want to space things out too evenly or in geometric shapes such as a rigid triangle. Nature doesn't typically fall into perfectly geometric patterns, so you want to mimic the natural spacing you might find in a forest. If you have many different groupings you want to highlight in your garden or lawn, it might be a good idea to look into creating different "rooms" on your land with different themes [source: Boulden].

Read on to learn about landscaping repetition, rhythm and sequence.


Landscaping Repetition, Rhythm and Sequence

Repetition is a principle closely related to sequence and has an effect on rhythm. Repetition is an easy enough principle to comprehend, since it just means that a recurring object in a landscape is a good way to create a complete and unified picture. Just because repetition is an easy principle to understand doesn't mean that it requires little thought when putting it to use. Repetition is one of those aspects that can be employed too much, thus creating a monotonous picture. When used right, it can help eliminate clutter and sloppiness.

One suggestion to avoid an overuse of repetition is­ to have an abstract theme to your garden that is brought together by the repetition of only one plant or garden element. This method saves you from being too obvious about repetition with too many different objects. It's important to remember that a good landscape has a variety of qualities, not just one [source: Boulden].


Rhythm is a result of repetition, and can be sensed most easily when you are walking at an even pace along a garden. Three objects are needed for a rhythm to be noticeable. When rhythms are established, the observer has a better connection to the land [source: My Ideal Garden].

Sequence is a way of creating movement without having to walk past the objects. Sequence is a natural way of directing your eye to a desired point of focus. It is a result of gradual variations in color, texture, size and shape.

Interested in learning more about landscaping? Read on for more information.


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