Landscape Design – The Principles and Elements of Landscaping

Introduction to Landscape Design

The Definition of Landscaping

Improve the aesthetic appearance of (an area) by changing its contours, adding ornamental features, or planting trees and shrubs.

“the site has been tastefully landscaped”.

What is Landscape Design?

Landscape design is not something that anyone needs to be fearful of, if you have an idea for your landscape or garden space you will be able to make it reality with a little bit of research and desire to create something beautiful.

As a potential Landscape Designer you need to be aware that your backyard masterpiece is going to be a living and growing thing that will change as the plants grow and develop, the environment changes through the season and you and your family use the space you have created. You will also grow as a person and landscaper as you learn through the experience and as a direct result of your personal growth and confidence in your ability your landscaping ideas and designs will also advance dramatically.

However you choose to Landscape your garden the priority is always to create something that you love, it will be your space and you will create something that is visually pleasing, functional and ultimately a landscape that works for you and for your garden.

What are the Landscaping Elements?

The first step in any design process is to put the ‘Elements’ in place for your Landscaping Space, obviously this changes for every single project because of the size of your space, the level of the ground, the conditions of the site and the soil and what is already there and may need to be worked around.

You, as the landscaper, need to sit and draw a rough plan of your space and place in any fixed feature that you may be required to work around (eg. a manhole cover). I would recommend doing a rough scale map of the area you have available to work in. It does not have to be fancy but a plan that is easy for you to work on and visualise your landscaping ideas.

When you have your basic plan (make sure you make a few copies) you can start to organise the hardscape materials and plants. Hardscape and Plants are referred to as features.

Features are anything that can be physically described by the visual qualities of:

Line – Form – Colour – Texture – visual weight.

These are the Elements of Landscaping Design.

What are the Landscaping Principles?

The principles of Landscaping are the guidelines that we use to arrange and organise the features to create a beautiful landscape, the fundamental concepts of landscape composition are proportion (always remember that plants grow over time), order (remember size and colour), repetition (how large or small a space do with to cover with a certain effect), and unity (will they and do they work together).

Understanding the Elements and Principles of Landscaping Design is the basic foundation of all landscaping Design, at this stage you just need to put your ideas down and think about what you want to create.

If you are brand new to landscape design do not be afraid, just apply your thoughts, ideas and what you are wanting to create to your design and deal with the details as you research and progress further into your landscaping experience.

Landscaping Design – The Primary Principles

Principles refer to standards or prescriptions for working with or arranging various elements to produce the intended landscape design. Good landscape design follows a combination of seven principles: unity, balance, proportion, focalization or emphasis, sequence or transition, rhythm, and repetition.

Unity refers to the use of elements to create harmony and consistency with the main theme or idea of the landscape design. Unity gives the landscape design a sense of oneness and interconnection. Unity in landscape design can be achieved by using plants, trees, or material that have repeating lines or shapes, a common hue, or similar texture. However, too much unity in landscape design can be boring. Therefore, it is important to introduce some variety or contrast into the landscape design.

Balance gives the landscape design a sense of equilibrium and symmetry in visual attraction. There are three ways by which balance may be presented in landscape design. Symmetrical or formal balance is achieved when the mass, weight, or number of objects both sides of the landscape design are exactly the same. Asymmetrical or informal balance in landscape design suggests a feeling of balance on both sides, even though the sides do not look the same. Asymmetrical balance in visual attraction may be achieved by using opposing compositions on either side of the central axis. Landscape design with radial balance has a center point. A sunflower, a wheel, and the cross-section of an orange all have radial balance.

Proportion describes the size relationship between parts of the landscape design or between a part of the design and the design as a whole. A large fountain would cramp a small backyard garden, but would complement a sprawling public courtyard. Additionally, proportion in landscape design must take into consideration how people interact with various components of the landscape through normal human activities.

Focalization or Emphasis directs visual attention to a point of interest or prominent part of the landscape design. This could be a hanging earth-forms sculpture, a stone-finished Corinthian garden fountain, a mass of architectural herbaceous perennials, or an elegant spruce. Emphasis in landscape design may be achieved by using a contrasting color, a different or unusual line, or a plain background space. Paths, walkways, and strategically placed plants lead the eye to the focal point of the landscape without distracting from the overall landscape design.

Sequence or Transition creates visual movement in landscape design. Sequence in landscape design is achieved by the gradual progression of texture, form, size, or color. Examples of landscape design elements in transition are plants that go from coarse to medium to fine textures or softscapes that go from large trees to medium trees to shrubs to bedding plants. Transition in landscape design may also be used to create depth or distance or to emphasize a focal point.

Rhythm creates a feeling of motion which leads the eye from one part of the landscape design to another part. Repeating a color scheme, shape, texture, line or form evokes rhythm in landscape design. Proper expression of rhythm eliminates confusion and monotony from landscape design.

And finally, repetition in landscape design is the repeated use of objects or elements with identical shape, form, texture, or color. Although it gives the landscape design a unified planting scheme, repetition runs the risk of being overdone. However, when correctly implemented, repetition can lead to rhythm, focalization or emphasis in landscape design.

Landscape Design Plans – The Foundation of Unique Outdoor Living Space

Landscape design plans are critical to any beautiful outdoor area. These detailed diagrams contain all the information needed to construct and install the landscape of your dreams, including scaled representation of everything within your property. Your design plan will illustrate the size of your property, as well as any special terrain features, and will display existing structures, existing hardscape designs, and plants and trees that will remain in your outdoor space.

Creating Design Plans

Some homeowners use special software programs to help produce an accurate, detailed landscape design plan, while others attempt to draw the plans by hand based on a plot map. There are a number of free design plans that can aid in the process as well, but the best way to get a professional and precise plan is to hire the services of a professional designer.

There are many different elements within a complete landscape design. Specialty designs, like lighting or irrigation, are typically illustrated with a separate plan. Swimming pool design, hardscapes, and even planting layouts each have their own design plan as well. Your plan set may include just one or two types of designs or could contain several, depending on exactly what your landscape design entails.

Types of Landscape Design Plans

  • Plot plans are the foundation of every other design plan for your yard. Extremely precise, these topography charts are usually obtained from a surveyor to ensure accuracy. Plot plans map out the existing structures and land elements on your property, including:
    • Accurate property lines, adjacent roads, driveways and sidewalks, walls, and fencing.
    • Buildings, storage sheds, your house, and other elements that may interfere with your design, like a play set or heating unit.
    • Natural features, including slopes, drainage issues, and both natural and man-made water elements.
  • Concept plans are the master design plans that bring everything together into a single diagram. Also called a site plan, this design is typically in AutoCAD format, but may be drawn by hand, and is often a resource used by contractors to develop an estimate on installation.
  • Elevation plans are typically integrated into other landscape design plans to provide more detail on vertical features. Structures like gazebos, walls, and fireplaces can be seen more clearly to ensure a more accurate installation.
  • Hardscape plans are often found within the concept plan but can be illustrated in a separate design plan as well. These plans are important for precise installation measurements on sidewalks, drives, fencing, and other structural landscaping elements. The appropriate materials, colors, and related details are outlined on the plan as well.
  • Planting plans are extremely detailed instructions for the installation of the vegetation within your landscape design. Using symbols and a comprehensive legend, the exact location of each plant is noted and the types of planting materials required are clearly stated. Planting plans can include shrubbery, hedges, flower beds, trees, and any other vegetation in your outdoor area.
  • Irrigation plans are not a part of every landscape design and are often integrated into an existing outdoor design. These plans include the layout of piping and the placement of sprinkler heads, helpful illustrations, and details on the necessary parts and equipment for installation.
  • Drainage plans are necessary parts of many landscape designs to eliminate excess water after a rain. These plans are also quite detailed, containing measurements on the exact grade needed and information on the best materials.
  • Lighting plans are optional as well, but are usually seen in most high-end outdoor designs. Illustrations and diagrams detail the types of lighting fixtures, along with their placement and positioning throughout the yard. Wiring and installation instructions are outlined and special lighting techniques are also noted.

There are many different things involved in creating a beautiful outdoor plan that blends with your home while reflecting your own personality. Every design plan begins with an accurate plot plan and can include nearly any outdoor feature you can imagine. A number of contractors can provide you with professional landscape design plans as well as quality installations for a convenient way to give your outdoor space just the right look.