Principles of Design for Gardens and Landscaping

Good garden design is achieved when the principles of design are followed. The principles are described and explained below. Examples of their practical applications are also given.

Keep the basic principles of design in mind throughout the whole garden design process. Get a good feel for the principles. See if you can identify them in gardens. This will make you aware of endless possibilities for you own garden design.


Optical illusion is used to change the perceived appearance of a garden. Small gardens can be made to look larger, narrow spaces wider, long distances shorter, etc.

To create a feeling of space, keep the pattern lines simple. Repeat the architectural lines close to your house. Finally, use flowing lines further away. Sometimes a hidden mirror can also add depth to your garden design.


Formal balance is created using a mirror image along a vertical plan. Informal balance is achieved by one part of the composition having an equivalent mass to another part. For example a large planting of shrubs may be required on one side of your garden to balance a large tree on the other side.


Create unity in your garden design by repeating patterns and plant materials.


Stick to the scale suitable for your garden. Small gardens can only accommodate shrubs and maybe one small tree, while a large garden could have many large trees.


Different forms create different effects in your garden design. If round pots are in your design, echo their shape in the shrubs, etc. Create different visual and emotional experiences with the forms you use. Form has sub principles of design, e.g. vertical, horizontal, spike, round and pendulous forms.

Vertical slim forms, elegantly act as exclamation marks! Plants with flat tops have horizontal forms and draw your eyes from side to side.

Use plants with strong and dynamic stems (spike form) as focal points in your garden design. Round forms will stop the eye in the landscape. A weeping, pendulous form will retain attention within a space.


Texture is used to create different effects in the garden design. Plants with large leaves provide a coarse texture. This creates a lush effect. Plants with shiny leathery leaves create a hard texture. Soft texture plants have small fine leaves. Medium texture is anything in between.


Color can provide the most interesting effects. Plants can be grouped together to create large splashes of color. You can blend and harmonise different colors to create a pleasing effect. Using different colours of green foliage can create a very interesting backdrop to bright colours.

Color is used to manipulate moods to create a very interesting and visually pleasing garden. Think of the color on an artist’s pallet, the possibilities to create a masterpiece are endless. Of all the principles of design, color has the most dramatic effect if executed correctly.


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