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Basic Principles of Landscape Design

by Jameson Peters

Landscaping combines elements of art and science to create a functional, and very pleasing extension of indoor living
to the outdoors. The initial purpose of landscape design is to blend man's technology (house or building) into the
natural surroundings. Landscaping can be done and enjoyed by people of all ages, whether its a five year old child
helping plants seeds in a garden or a ninety five year old women planting flowers in pots its all a form of landscaping.
Landscaping can turn an area that is considered to be dark and undesirable into an area where people want to spend
time, because of how bright and welcoming it has become. Landscaping is all around us it is easy to see but if done
right not always recognized because it seems to fit right in and flow so well with its surroundings.

Elements of Art
As mentioned above landscaping includes some elements of art, each one of these elements go into the decision
making process when deciding on the design of a landscape. These elements include but are not limited to:

Color- color of flowers, shrubs, trees, ect. and how these colors look together and also how they look with the
surroundings that are already in place

Line- related to eye movement and flow. Can be created by arranging plants in a way that creates fit or flow, it
also can be created vertically by changes in plant height. Straight lines can be created which tend to be
structural and stable and direct the observer's eye to a point faster than curved lines. Curved or free-flowing
lines are sometimes described as smooth, graceful or gentle and create a relaxing, progressive, moving and
natural feeling.

Form- the shape and structure of a plant or mass of plants. This shape and structure includes the plant forms
such as upright, oval, columnar, spreading, broad spreading, weeping, etc.

Texture- surface quality of an object than can be seen or felt. Surfaces in the landscape includes buildings,
walks, patios, groundcovers
and plants. Mixing different
textures and making them
flow together is the key in a
sucessfull landscape.

Scale-the size of an object

surroundings. Size refers to
describes the size
objects. The size of
to the human scale must be

or objects in relation to the

definite measurements while scale
relationship between neighboring
plantings to buildings or plantings
considered when designing a

Principles of Design
There are many principles of design
when designing a landscape. These
an intended design outcome. The

Unity- all parts of the

Everything selected for a
central scheme and must,

that landscapers use and abide by

principles interact together to yield
principles include:
landscape go together; or fit.
landscape must complement the
above all, serve some functional


Balance- the equilibrium or equality of visual attraction. Both sides of a predetermined central axis flow
together, each side can either mirror one another or each side can be different however in any case each side
must balance with the other side. An onlooker shouldn't notice one side and not the other, it should flow
together and look like one.

Transition- gradual change. In a landscape transition could include gradual change from one color to another,
one texture to another, or one shape to another. An unlimited number of schemes exist by combining elements
of various size, form, texture and color to create transition.

Focalization- the leading of visual observation toward a feature by placement of this feature at the vanishing
point between radial or approaching lines. Transition of plants or other objects along these lines can strengthen
or weaken the focalization. Since focalization can be used to direct attention to a point, traffic in an area is
usually directed to that point. Therefore, focalization could be used to direct traffic in a garden area or it could
be used to make the viewer unconsciously look at various points of interest..

Proportion- size of parts of the design in relation to each other and to the design as a whole. For example a
large tree might look good next to a large office building but might look out of place next to a garden shed. A
small pool would get lost in a large garden area but it would fit nicely in a small private setting.

Rhythm- the elements of a design create a feeling of motion which leads the viewer's eye through or even
beyond the designed area. Tools like color schemes, line and form can be repeated to attain rhythm in
landscape design.

Repetition- the repeated use of features like plants with identical shape, line, form, texture and/or color. Too
much repetition creates monotony but when used effectively can lead to rhythm, focalization or emphasis.
When an landscaper wants repetition in a design he or she makes sure not to have too much variety because it
leads to a cluttered busy appearance.

Simplicity- the reduction of a design to its simplest, functional form, which avoids unnecessary cost and

Steps In Developing A Landscape Design

To the average person it might seem that there are numerous steps when developing a landscape design, but in reality
there are only six basic ones that a person must follow in order to be successful when designing.
Steps In Design

Develop a plot plan- The designer should visualize his design and put it on paper through drawings. The
drawings should include everything on and around the landscape site, and the plans should be accurate. These
plans are what the whole design will be based on so its important to make sure they are correct because it
better to make a mistake on paper than it is to make a mistake on the actual landscape site.


Conduct a site analysis- This analysis is a complete survey of the property. It includes many factors some of
which are existing vegetation, different views, and some architectural features of the house. This is a very
important step because it can end up saving alot of time and money.


Assess family needs and desires- A landscaper must learn what the new landscaped area is going to be
used for. When done the area should be able to accomodate whatever needs and desires are wanted.


Locate activity areas- Now that the families needs and desires have been attained it is time to pick out the
areas where activities will take place. These outdoor activity areas should should be placed in relation to the
indoor activity areas. The outdoor living or entertaining area should be an extension of the family or living
room in the house.


Design activity areas- A systematic approach should be taken in designing activity areas. First, determine
the objectives of the design and establish the general type of plan -- formal or natural. Plan for structural

needs, consider land form modifications, determine traffic flow, develop bed form and then specify plant

Plant selection and placement- Plants are selected on the basis of climatic adaptability to the climate of
the location, plant architecture and availability. Landscape designers must also be aware of insect and disease
problems for plants they expect to include in a plan. Desirable plants are those resistant to or tolerant of pests
and plants in some locations must be tolerant of human abuse, air pollution and animals. When plants are
placed they should be spaced apart enough to accomodate mature growth as to eliminate future