Documents: Special Interest:

The Importance of Good Garden Design
by Joe Lamp'l (Joe Gardener)
April 19, 2009

In the home landscape, there was a time when good design focused primarily on flower color for most of the visual interest. Today professional designers and savvy home gardeners look to flower color more as a secondary issue in creating good landscape designs that provide four seasons of interest.

The reason that flowers have become less important in great design is that although often times the first thing we notice, they’re only the center of attention for a relatively short time. Today, there is far more emphasis on plants that have highly ornamental qualities other than flowers. It is often seen in the unusual foliage color which can be every bit as brilliant as many flowers.

Foliage color is used to compliment or contrast with other plants within the design and unifies the overall look. In addition and one of the primary reasons that designers focus so much on foliage color is that it lasts the entire season and many times all year.

Texture in plant foliage is very important in garden design as it is used to create diversity and variety amongst neighboring plants. The interest created solely by varying texture can be so visual, color may have very little to do with this part of the design’s success. Striking visual interest can even be achieved when working with two different plants with similar shades of green, simply by contrasting various textures.

Form relates to the overall shape of the plant, shrub or tree. Without regard to color or flower, form alone can create enough unique visual interest to command attention, create diversity or break up an otherwise boring design. Plant forms can provide the punctuation or statement, command attention or blend shapes together into a unified vignette.

Repetition of the same plant shapes throughout the landscape can create rhythm, balance and harmony and tie the entire design together. At the same time, throw in a unique form, and the eye stops, breaking the visual flow across the landscape.

There are many natural shapes that can be used in landscape design. Forms and shapes of plants and trees can be columnar, conical, oval, round, pyramidal, weeping, horizontally spreading, and arching.

Layers In nature, the most beautiful combinations occur with no help on our part. As you observe a natural landscape you will note up to six layers, from groundcovers all the way up to the tallest trees. What is seen in nature provides inspiration and illustrates ways we could think in creating a natural looking design in our own gardens. Plenty of interest comes from the varying levels of plants and trees as well as their form, color and texture.

Hardscapes and focal points Within any landscape, a great way to incorporate built in variety, interest and visual punctuation is with focal points in the form of hardscapes, yard art or strategically placed plants.

A focal point is anything that draws the eye to it. Examples in the garden include a brilliant Japanese maple cloaked by a wall of dark evergreens. Or, a statue or fountain at the end of a long narrow pathway. Focal points not only draw your eye to it, but they often draw the viewer towards it as well for a closer look. Another use of focal points can also serve the dual purpose of cleverly distracting the eye away from an unsightly view.

Stimulating all the senses When we consider landscape design, we first think in terms of what we see. However, what we see is only one of our five senses. In a complete landscape, we should strive to stimulate all the senses: sight, scent, sound, taste and touch. Beyond the infinite visual opportunities that exist, it is easy to incorporate elements that reach our other senses as well.

The perfumed fragrance of Jasmine, Tea Olive, Gardenina, Viburnum, Roses or native azaleas is just a few in a long list of aromatic plants. They can provide the scent that evokes the memory of a loved one, or a special time or place. A bubbling fountain, a babbling creek or the many tones of a wind chime can take you to a place far away, simply by the sound they create. The opportunity to stimulate your taste buds should not be missed and can easily be provided by placing edible flowers, herbs and fruit throughout your garden.

Finally, there are so many textures to add to the overall sensory pleasures. From the soft foliage of lamb’s ear, the silky smooth bark of a sycamore tree or the many surfaces of stone, closing your eyes and taking in all that you don’t see can be an equally rewarding part of your garden experience.

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