Simple design elements help avoid landscaping problems

Getting started on creating your ideal landscape can be the toughest part. You can envision stately trees and lush beds of beautiful shrubs and perennials, but exactly how do you go about it?
I fully understand those feelings! In the previous column I described a painless way to plan your garden and to mark out the proposed beds with a garden hose or a length of rope before you dig.
If you missed that column you can find it archived at my Web site. Go to then click on the Plant Man heading and find the column titled "How to get started on your landscaping project."
Today I will review some elements of design and how you can apply these to your new landscape. In reality, of course, you need to consider these elements (and the plants you would like to include) at the planning stage, because this could affect the size, shape and location of your new beds.
Although the actual plants you select should take into account the "plant hardiness zone" in which you live, certain design principals are fairly universal. I'm sure we've all seen examples of landscaping where well-meaning but misguided homeowners have created something that... well, just looks "wrong." Maybe the scale relationship between the plants and the house looks odd, or the plantings don't seem to flow.
Here are some artistic elements to consider when you're planning your landscape:
Color Line Texture Scale Balance
One of the best explanations I've ever seen of how to use these design elements is titled "Basic Principles of Landscape Design," written by Dewayne L. Ingram of the University of Florida Extension Service. The article is online at and you can click on a direct link when you find this column at my Web site. The article is packed with information and I highly recommend it.
Here is a brief summary of what Mr. Ingram says about these elements:
Color A good start is a color wheel, available at art and hobby shops, showing primary colors (red, blue and yellow), secondary colors (the blending of primary colors, such as red and yellow creating orange) and so on. The wheel will help you decide if you want monochromatic, analogous or complementary color schemes.
Briefly, a monochromatic layout uses plants that are different shades and tints of one color, whereas analogous color schemes combine colors which are adjacent or side-by-side on the color wheel. Complementary color schemes combine colors directly across the color wheel.
You can also use color to change the perception of distance. For example, plants with cool colors such as blue and green, placed around a home's foundation, can make the house visually appear further back from the street.
Line Line is the element that refers to flow or eye-movement. A straight line of plantings leads the eye directly to a point, whereas curved lines create a relaxed, natural feel.
Texture Texture is something you can see and feel. Textures might be rough or smooth, coarse or fine, dull or glossy. Smooth, glossy leaves seen against the rough texture of stone or brick wall can be an interesting juxtaposition.
Scale Often overlooked, scale is an important element to consider when choosing plants for your new landscape. Certainly, you're unlikely to want every plant to be exactly the same height, but beware of allowing one plant to overpower its neighbors.
Balance Do you want the left side to be an exact mirror image of the right side? Or do you prefer an asymmetrical balance, using color, line, texture and scale? (See above!)
Above all, plan a landscape that appeals to your personal taste; one that you and your family will enjoy looking at and living in. As for specific plants, perhaps those that would work well together in terms of texture, scale and the other elements discussed here, I'm always happy to offer personal suggestions if you send a few details to
Meanwhile here are two other online resources you might find useful as you plan your new landscape. As always you can click on direct links from this column at my Web site. Online landscape design course: 108 free e-mailed lessons from 100's of landscape planning links provided by the Vocational Information Center
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, go to

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