by Mark Wolfe
In landscaping, there are lots of ways to do-it-yourself. For some, it may be as simple as heading to the nursery, buying what strikes your fancy, and finding a place for it when you get home. Others may prefer the guidance of a professionally drawn landscape plan, from which they will not deviate. Most of us operate somewhere in between these opposites. To avoid wasting time and money, we generate some sort of design, either on paper or in our heads, before buying material; but we require flexibility in order to make the best use of available options when we are ready to plant. Keeping these five design principles in mind will help focus your time and money on their best uses, while letting you roll with the punches when options are limited.
Balance means equilibrium, and may be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. A large tree may counter the position of an outbuilding or offset the effect of a steep slope. A centralized landscape focal point such as a fountain may be balanced among an approaching pathway, a bench to the rear, a small perennial garden to one side and a cluster of shrubs opposite.
Repetition is one of the most helpful ways to create a unified look. Repeated use of the same plant is one way to use it. Also think about patterns, colors and textures that may carry the theme from one area to the next.
Contrast adds eye appeal to mass plantings and helps delineate spaces. Layered shrub plantings look great when the foliage of one type pops against another due to color or texture contrast. A manicured hedge works nicely to separate a lawn from a rustic cottage garden.
Dominance refers to creation of a focal point while maintaining balance and unity in the landscape. The dominant, or focal, feature may be large, such as an upright red-leaf Japanese maple, or small, as in a container of annual flowers. The effect of dominance is made by the strategic use of contrast, and often by interrupting repetition within the landscape.
Hierarchy is what keeps the eye moving through the landscape, drawing attention progressively from the most important to the least important elements. As you approach the home, a large flowering tree is first to be noticed, followed by striking contrast in a shrub planting, followed by a really nice bed of annual flowers and finally the front door. Perhaps the front yard features a beautiful lawn with a flowering cherry tree. When the cherry is blooming, the neighbors say “Wow, what a beautiful tree!” But, in the summer when the grass looks great and the tree has green leaves instead of flowers, the neighbors say “You have the best looking lawn on the block!”
Keep design principles in mind as you strive to improve your landscape. These principles will help you stay focused on the whole project, providing a sense of wholeness even as you are nailing down details.
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