Monday, October 21, 2013

Garden Designers' Roundtable: Principles of Design

The "principles of design" as applied to the landscape may mean different things to different people (behold the power of the Roundtable!); my take on this topic is informed by my professional training which was based  on a fine arts perspective. The artist's approach incorporates a vocabulary of elements and principles to be used as the building blocks for any type of design — landscape or otherwise.  Mastering these concepts is on-going, but they do provide an excellent rubric for both creativity and analysis/critique.

The elements of design:  line, direction, shape, form, size, texture, value and color. They're the features that are most typically referred to when landscapes and gardens are discussed.  The principles of design are a bit more abstract, and consist of:  repetition, pattern, harmony, gradation (which I wrote about here), contrast, dominance, unity, and balance.

For this discussion, I'll focus on contrast, because I think it's the most powerful and important principle as regards landscape design.  Why?  Most landscapes are comprised primarily of plants (repetition) and are, therefore, very harmonious (lots of similar items).  By placing plant materials with strongly contrasting characteristics next to one another, you bring their differences to the fore and strengthen them as individuals. The plant "characteristics" that I refer to are the elements of design that they present.  Here are a few examples:

This simple planting of yucca and nasturtium is visually arresting because of the strong contrast in foliage texture (size and shape) and plant form (upright and rounded vs. low and horizontal).

The high contrast in flower colors (yellow and purple are opposites on the color wheel) in this photo helps the eye distinguish between similar plant/flower forms.
Design by Denver Botanic Gardens
Contrast in foliage textures and colors are crucial to a garden's success.
Canna and kale design by Denver Parks and Recreation

In a mass planting like this monochromatic perennial garden, contrast in flower value, form, and size, as well as plant form and size, and foliage texture, make for a visual delight rather than a boring mess.
Design by Denver Botanic Gardens
The principle of contrasting elements should be applied to landscapes of any scale and design style, and should be applied to hardscape components as well.  I hope you'll join my fellow members of The Garden Designers' Roundtable for more insights into  the principles of design:


Anonymous said...

Finally getting back to re-read the roundtablers posts!

Gradation - I need to look at this more, as I think it's something I employ in larger areas. But the canna planting grabs me most, with the forms and textures. Good stuff.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

That canna/kale combo is one of my all-time favorites! Washington Park in Denver is a great place to view annuals planted on a large scale. Thanks for your comment, David!