Landscaping Design Principles You Need to Know – Forbes

Landscape architects and designers use a variety of guidelines and tools to create attractive and functional outdoor living spaces. While most owners and weekend warriors may not have experience with advanced professional training, the concepts followed by the pros are not entirely out of reach.

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The principles of landscaping, namely proportion, order, repetition and unity, are the fundamental concepts of composition that professionals use to plan all kinds of open spaces. Homes, parks, golf courses, businesses and countless other organizations benefit from the artistic and practical application of these principles. You can also learn from them.

Landscaping Elements vs Landscaping Principles

Initially, the designer must have a clear vision of the project’s objectives. In addition to creating an attractive space, is there a need for privacy? Is there a collection of favorite plants that should be showcased, like a prized rose garden? After considering all of the issues at stake, the plants and landscaping materials, or features, are arranged.

Landscape features can be physically described by their visual qualities of line, shape, color, texture, and visual weight. These are known as design elements. Design principles are the guidelines for arranging these features into a beautiful landscape.

landscape design elements

Landscaping elements are the planning tools used to compose the various features of the garden. Design elements help determine plant selection and placement, landscaping layout, material finishes, water feature types and sizes, and much more.

  • Line
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Form
  • visual mass or weight

Landscaping Principles

The principles of landscaping describe the ways in which design elements should be used. They break down the ideals of beauty and functionality into four useful guidelines or categories.

  • Proportion
  • Order
  • Repetition
  • Unity


In landscaping, proportion is the size relationship of plants, landscaping, buildings, and other landscaping elements to each other and to human scale. Tiny foundation plants in front of a substantial house entrance will be visually lost, but a century-old oak tree could completely obscure the house. The idea is to take a step back and consider how the different elements appear and function as a whole. For a better proportion, install taller foundation plants and prune the oak.

Gold number

Concretely, the “divine proportion” or “golden ratio” has played a key role in design since the Egyptians built the pyramids. It states that the ratio of the short side to the long side should be equal to the ratio of the long side to the sum of the two sides (a/b=b/a+b), or about 1:1.6 (e.g. 5 x 8 , 10×16 or 15×24). Humans find this spatial arrangement pleasing. Consider using it to landscape horizontal spaces like lawns or vertical features like walkways.

Important enclosure

Using the right proportion also helps define a “garden room” or countryside enclosure such as a swimming pool Pool terrace or children’s play area. The significant enclosure rule tells us that the vertical edge, such as a decorative hedge or fence, must be at least one-third the length of the horizontal space. So plan to border your 24-foot-wide terrace with an 8-foot-high hedge for a cozy effect.


The principle of order takes into account the organization and balance within the landscaping. Spatial organization refers to the three-dimensional arrangement of the landscape, including the lay of the land as well as plants and structures. An analogy for balance is equal “visual weight”. The goal is to balance side-to-side and front-to-back.

Symmetrical vs. Asymmetric Balance

Balance can be achieved symmetrically or asymmetrically. The symmetry incorporates the same harsh plants and landscapes as mirror images of each other found in traditional formal landscapes. In informal landscapes, asymmetry balances different features and elements whose shapes, textures and colors have the same visual weight.

Regulation line

A designer takes inspiration from existing elements, such as the line of a wall, a particular window or the drip of a large tree, to connect and organize the design. These imaginary lines lead the designer to incorporate elements that will either unify the whole or break up the space aesthetically.

Use regulation lines to determine effective placement of foundation plants and privacy screens, alignment of focal points and more.


Diversity adds interest, but too many different species, colors, textures or combinations in a relatively small space is confusing. The repetition of familiar patterns and sequences in a landscape adds to the appearance of order and helps build unity. At the same time, overuse of a single item becomes monotonous. Balance is the key.

Subtle repetition

Often growing conditions do not permit the use of the same plants in all parts of the landscape. Repetition does not necessarily mean using the exact same things over and over again to create a pattern. Repeated use of form, texture or color throughout the landscape is an effective way to incorporate this principle where conditions change.


Use alternation as a way to create subtle or patterned repeats. In alternation, a minor sequence change occurs regularly. For example, every fifth globe shape along a line of boxwood could be interrupted by a pyramid shape. Or, alternate inverted shapes such as pyramid plants and vase-shaped plants in an orderly sequence.


Using a gradual change in the characteristics of a characteristic makes repetition more interesting. A shape may gradually become smaller or larger, or the colors of the flowers may gradually become darker or lighter.


A unified landscape design gives the impression that everything is working together to create a whole. Adopting a proven theme or design style, such as a formal garden, Japanese garden Where Xeriscape style, can help but is not mandatory. Unity, also called harmony, is achieved through the effective use of dominance, interconnectedness, unity of three, and simplicity in the arrangement of textures, colors, and shapes.


Focal points are dominant features that capture attention. They draw attention to a particular place and help move the eye through space. These features usually contrast in color, size, shape, or texture with the surrounding landscape. Plant specimens with unique shapes and textures, as well as architectural elements such as water features or garden sculptures, are often used for this purpose. Regular plants can fulfill this role, such as when isolated in containers.


Often we think of creating “garden rooms” or enclosures that encapsulate part of the landscape. But good design uses different elements to pull everything together. The walkways serve as a chain that connects all the rooms together. Likewise, the pursuit of any regulating line helps to create unity through interconnection.
Unity of Three
Elements grouped in threes or other odd numbers create visual balance while promoting landscape unity. Odd numbers are easily perceived as a group that is not easily divisible, like even numbers. They allow alternate pitch variations, providing more interest.


Eliminating non-essential elements helps to avoid chaos in the landscape. For example, rather than choosing nine different flowers for the annual border, choose one primary color or type and one or two accents. Is it necessary to cover the border with bricks, or would it be better to have a clean and natural border?

While it’s helpful to understand the elements and principles of landscaping design, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. One of the best ways to create good design is to take ideas from gardens and landscapes that you have seen and find appealing. Collect inspiration for everything from plant combinations to walkway surface materials and incorporate them. Adapt them to your project, then use what you know of the four principles to fill in the gaps.

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