Have you ever visited a garden that whispered ‘welcome’ to you? Most likely this garden had a plan that used the principals of design to create this welcoming feeling.


Have you ever visited a garden that whispered ‘welcome’ to you? Most likely this garden had a plan that used the principals of design to create this welcoming feeling. There was a deliberate arrangement of plants and non-living components in this plan or design. Many of us think that landscape design is rigid, but there is a constant interaction between the gardener’s wants and what the garden will support. There are six basic principles to design which overlap and interact with each other. These principles are considered universal. Once you understand them, you will have the tools you need to design any size or style garden you can imagine.

Balance – is a pleasing to the eye arrangement in which the visual weight of the different plants and the hard-scaping elements are in proportion. Symmetrical balance on each side of an imaginary dividing line. Symmetry creates a formal look. Asymmetrical balance is also organized, but the visual weight of the elements is more random creating a casual landscape. An example is planting around a birdbath. You plant the same flowers on each side of the birdbath. By planting a tall flower on one side and a low flower on the other – the birdbath would seem out of balance.

Focal Point – is an object or area that attracts the most attention. You can create a focal point with an object (fountain, bench, arbor, arch, gate, etc.) or with a vibrant color. A focal point leads the visitor to a specific place in your landscape and then encourages them to experience the space around the focal point.

Contrast — makes plants stand out from each other. It builds a visual tension that holds interest and creates excitement. Basically, it keeps the garden from becoming boring by contrasting color and forms. An example would be planting lower-growing perennials in front of a taller shrub or tall flowers. The area is more interesting because of this contrast and the area is more of a focal point than any of the plants would be by themselves. Some elements of contrast are using color vs. using a one color scheme, height, shape, (vertical vs. low or mounding shapes) or size (small  green leaves vs. large variegated leaves). It is recommended to use contrast sparingly, as too many contrasting elements in a small area make a garden look chaotic.

Repetition — is duplicating forms, textures, colors or sizes to make the garden more eye appealing. You can mirror the plants or repeat a color or shape throughout the landscape. Evenly spaced plants produce an upbeat feeling. Larger elements with some space between them can produce a stately, majestic feel. Staggered uneven repetition will have a bouncy, energetic effect.

Movement – draws the viewer though the garden. It is created by different kind of lines. Straight lines are typically found in symmetrical, geometric and formal gardens which often have sharp corners or turns. Curved lines are found in more natural and informal looking gardens.  Are visitors to the garden encouraged to speed along through an area (straight path) or are visitors encouraged to slow down and admire a view (curved path).  The mystery of what is around the corner also entices visitors to move deeper into the garden.

Unity – means all the garden’s individual parts make sense together. All the principals are working together and the garden ‘ just feels right.’ When you have chosen the repetition of colors and shapes, contrasts in color and texture and have movement leading the visitor to explore your garden, you will have unity. Unity is just a way of measuring how well the other principles bring the landscape together.
Now that you know the principles of design, you’ll find yourself seeing them in every garden and you will make them part of your garden