Friday, November 25, 2011

The Elements of Great Landscape Design

With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, recognize how much time and effort you have to devote to your landscape and select appropriate plant materials. Perennials such as daylilies, catmint, salvia, and ornamental grasses are essentially maintenance-free with little to no watering required once established.

Great design begins at the foundation of your home with vertical accents. Play up columns, corners of your  porch, or your front entry with plant materials such as ornamental grasses or vertical evergreens.

Light makes colors and textures come alive. Place trees and shrubs with colored foliage along an east-west line so they can benefit from the backlighting of a rising or setting sun. Use artificial lighting to produce soft pools of brightness at dusk; you will be amazed at how an ordinary garden can be transformed into a magical night garden with just a few strategically placed lights.

Design style works for the interior as well as the exterior. Extend that style to your landscape. Use vintage accents such as weathered galvanized tubs for plant containers to depict an antique or cottage style. Incorporate contemporary art figures to transfer a modern, sleek interior fashion.

Plants are often divided into two classes: those with coarse foliage (such as these hostas) and those with fine foliage (such as the Hakone grass in this photo). Put one type of plant next to the other and -- voila! -- you're a design genius.

Carry the flow while softening your front entry by alternating groups of the same plant along your sidewwalk. Three to five plants in each grouping will create the best impact without overpowering the style.

Form is the art-school word for shape. Easily defined shapes -- the cones of these pruned trees, for example -- are very distinctive in the plant world, where so many inhabitants are jumbles of several shapes (or no shape at all). Strong forms can make a garden distinctive and memorable. If that's your aim, select a form or two and repeat it throughout your garden.

Make a characteristic tree or large shrub the focal point of your garden.

In design, scale refers to the size of items relative to gardeners (that is, to human beings). For example, a 4-x-12-foot banquet table is grossly out of scale for an intimate dinner for two. In the photo, the scale of the  walkway (that is, its width) is well-suited to the modest number of people who will be using the walkway at any given time. In general, follow the Goldilocks rule: Don't build too big or too small to accommodate your needs.

Structures such as pergolas, trellises, and arbors add a little something extra to a landscape. In addition, they provide visual interest during winter and early spring when much of your garden hasn't flourished yet.

A line can be any "skinny" element that wanders through the garden. Common lines include paths, fences, edgings, or a wall. In general, curved lines are more interesting than straight ones. Use to entice visitors to a special place (like a shady nook) or to draw their eyes to a special element (like that $200 Japanese maple you broke your piggy bank to buy).

Humans like patterns because they take the guesswork out of a scene. If we see a latticework trellis, our mind can assume that the hidden portions of the trellis have the same checkerboard pattern. In this regard, patterns give our brains a rest. That's why it's useful to maintain the same paving pattern all along a path. On the other hand, a bold pattern can draw attention to itself. The tightly controlled pattern of an herb knot garden turns a group of mundane little plants into a work of art.

Balance is a general sense that the visual elements on one side of a scene are of equal weight to the elements on the other side of the scene. Balance creates a feeling of calm. The easiest (or boringest, depending on your personality) way to achieve balance is to divide the scene down the middle and create mirror images on either side. This traditional home exhibits formal balance.

Informal balance is much harder to achieve than the mirror images of formal balance. For example, in this contemporary home several small container plants on the right side of the dividing line balance a single large  shrub on the other side. With informal balance, you have much more flexibility because the dividing line (or "pivot point") can be anywhere in the scene. Think about how a see-saw works and you'll be on the right track.

When all elements of a garden seem to come from the same personality or sensibility, you have achieved unity. This Asian-inspired meditation garden achieves unity. If you were to plop in a conga-line of pink plastic flamingos, the unity would be gone, replaced by levity -- which might be just what the gardener wanted! Don't worry too much about unity in your own garden. Your gut (or your neighbor) will likely tell you when something doesn't fit.

Color has many uses in garden design. Bright, warm colors create a sense of action and excitement. Cool colors and pastels lend a calmer feeling. Single-color designs create a sophisticated look, while multicolor designs engender a festive atmosphere. Color can also evoke a sense of time -- think of the rusts and oranges of fall. Don't be afraid of color: play with it in your garden, and try as many combinations as you can dream up.

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