Principles of landscape design

You can create a visually pleasing landscape by following these six principles of design.

There are six principles of design that have been used by artists for centuries throughout all art forms, painting and floral design as well as landscape design. They are:

  1. Balance
  2. Focalization
  3. Simplicity
  4. Rhythm and Line
  5. Proportion
  6. Unity

1. Balance

Balance is a state of being as well as seeing. We are most comfortable in landscapes that have a sense of balance. There are two major types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Symmetrical balance is used in formal landscapes when one side of the landscape is a mirror image of the opposite side. These landscapes often use geometric patterns in the walkways, planting beds and even how the plants are pruned into shapes. This type of balance appears to be rather stiff in appearance and often is highly maintained. Asymmetrical balance, also known as informal balance, differs from one side to the other and appears to be relaxing and free flowing.

Using these principles, landscape designers create landscapes that are pleasing to look at and even inviting. These principles were not created by artists centuries ago, but more of an inherent visual sense that most people possess. Using these as guidelines helps designers and homeowners create a landscape that “make sense” to look at.

2. Focalization

Any good design has a focal point – the place where the viewer’s eye is first attracted. Focalization is sometimes referred to as focalization of interest or simply focal point. The focal point is the strongest element in the design in any given view. A home’s focal point is often the front door. The landscape focal point is often something close to the front door to enhance the entrance of the home.

Each area of the landscape may include a focal point, but it is certainly not necessary. Landscape designers should not overuse focal points. In any view, people are attracted to interesting plant forms, bright colors and artistic, architectural design as well as art or sculptures. Mix it up, have some fun and create interesting focal points.

3. Simplicity

Simplicity is what the name implies – simple. Keeping landscapes simple, not cluttered or fussy is always a good practice. This is not the opposite of complexity. Many landscapes have very complex features, including the architectural design, water features and extensive lighting features. Landscapes that make people happy and comfortable avoid using too many colors, shapes, curves and textures, but in no way does this mean simplistic, boring or lack of imagination.

4. Rhythm and line

When something in the landscape is repeated with a standard interval, a rhythm is established. In landscape design, the interval is usually space. Plants, groups of plants, lamp posts, benches or other structures can be repeated within the design to create this rhythm. Lines within a landscape are created in a landscape by the shape and form of the planting beds, sidewalks, where the turf meets pavement and other hardscaping features. The rhythm and line design principle gives a landscape a sense of movement and is what may draw you “into” the landscape. This is what makes landscapes calming to our souls.

5. Proportion

Proportion refers to the size relationship of all the features in the landscape. This includes vertical, horizontal and special relationships. Short people, tall people and children all perceive space differently. Proportion in landscape design extends to building size, lot size, plant size, areas of plantings to areas of open space as well as the use of the landscape.

6. Unity

The principle of unity is easily measured if the other five landscape principles have been properly executed throughout the landscape. Unity in design simply means all the separate parts of the landscape work together to create a great total design. Colors, shapes, sizes, textures and other features work together to create a unified space. Patterns and colors are often repeated. Lighting, special features, bed shapes and hardscapes such as walk ways all need to work together to create a pleasing look and a unified landscape.

By following these principles of design, you will be able to create a visually pleasing landscape in any space, large or small. For more information, see “Water Wise Landscaping: Principles of Landscape Design” by Colorado State University Extension.

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