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 www.landsteward.org 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
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 http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/BODY_MG086
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:
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 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 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
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.
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
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and
landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org For resources and additional
information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, go