soft and hard,
light and dark,
vertical and horizontal,
big and small.
Sometimes those contrasts are important. They catch the eye and serve as focal points, or highlight the distinctive attributes of specific plants or hardscape elements within the landscape.
Sometimes, however, that high contrast is just boring, as in this classic "spruce in the lawn" example:
How does one transition from one extreme to another? How does one create more visual interest, movement, and shear lushness in the garden? By employing the design principle of gradation. By definition, "gradation is a sequence in which the contrasting extremes are bridged by a series of harmonious steps."* In the garden, our "harmonious steps" are . . . plants! We transition from tall to low or big to small with layers of plants.
A large scale application of this idea looks like this:
|The gardens at Kendrick Lake feature drought tolerant plants in an undulating, sculptural design by Greg Foreman for the city of Lakewood, Colorado.|
|At Denver Botanic Gardens, a more formal style of planting transitions the tall, living juniper wall down to human scale.|
Here are some examples of smaller, residential gardens that employ gradation:
|Vines, columnar trees, and perennials create a lush look in a narrow space walls and walks. Design by Thunderbird Landscaping.|
|In my home garden, shrubs and perennials create the transition from fence to lawn.|
|A simpler execution by homeowner Rochelle Elias.|
|In a narrow space between fence and walk, elevated container gardens substitute for tall shrubs. Design by homeowner Holly Fliniau|
This principle can also be applied on a micro level:
|Even small planting beds can benefit from a layering gradation of plants. (Designer unknown.)|
|Containers, too, benefit from transitional plantings. Design by Denver Botanic Gardens.|
As you can see, the use of gradation creates transitions that are full, rich, and lively. How will you apply this design principle in your landscape?
Read more about transitions in the landscape from my fellow members of the Garden Designers Roundtable by clicking the links here:
Thanks for visiting!
*The Art of Color and Design, by Maitland Graves