Marc Chagall, 1887-1985
“Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers — and never succeeding.”
Think like an artist when designing a garden and use the basic design elements such as colour, line, texture, form and scale to help create a garden that looks and feels appealing and is a joy to visit and work in.
Using the basic design elements and their combinations will give you the tools to create balance, unity, harmony, transition, repetition, accent and proportion in landscaping a garden.
The elements of design as a whole may seem daunting when attempting to make decisions on landscaping and building a new garden, refreshing an older garden or simply adding a new range of plants. Taken one by one though the design elements can be the very tools that will get you started.
Garden Rooms or spaces are just like the rooms inside our homes that we easily decorate. Using different materials in borders, plants, walls, paths, doorways, screens and clever planting, we can create rooms in the garden and anchor the garden to the site to make it feel comfortable. The rooms of a garden create order and make the space more manageable and safe. So, the house and garden are unified rather than separate spaces.
Form is created by the shape and contours of the plants you choose to grow in the garden. By combining certain shapes in your planting will define the style of the garden—clever use of hedges, topiary but also strong architecturally interesting foliage and plants.
Frame your view, just as a window inside the house frames the view of the garden, so too can elements in the garden or in the distance be framed. By screening out any distractions, you can focus the eye to go to the desired object or view in the garden. For example, looking through a trellis or a symmetrical path creates a balance and organised composition in the garden. From inside the house, look at what plants or accents in the garden can be viewed through the windows.
A welcoming entrance creates a sense of transition from one area to another. A glimpse or introduction to what lies ahead. If the entrance is architecturally similar to the house it will create a unified space.
Accents will draw the eye and create a feature. By careful positioning of sculptures, coloured plants, large pots, architectural plants or other elements will give the garden focus, and visually organise the space making it more interesting, and exciting. Fragrance can also be an accent, so place highly scented plants where people can enjoy them easily or as a special feature by doors and entrances.
Structures can be both aesthetic and also functional, and can help create rooms in the garden or can screen the view making it visually interesting. If the garden has richly diverse plantings the structure can link the garden to the house in a smooth transition.
Now let’s look at my favourite part, the colour, textures, patterns and rhythm in the garden.
Colour is important and creates a mood within the garden rooms. Take the time to design a colour scheme with your plants. Colour is, however, very subjective, and will also change with the quality of the light. Light -coloured blooms and plants will appear further away and make the garden appear larger than bright and dark colours. In each garden room use one colour scheme or a transition from one to another. Be careful of attempting a colour scheme that will not work in your climate. For example, heavy shade is not the best for vivid, bright blooms and maybe better as a diverse range of foliage plants or colours that will give you more light. Lilac, greens and greys act as good transitional colours for roses and other blooms. Generally, a lot of one colour creates a statement space rather than bits of colour here and there.
Reginald Farrer, 1880-1920, British plant explorer, rock gardener, and author
“What pleasure is there greater than to go round one’s garden on a sunny day with a fellow-enthusiast, and to sing that cheering litany which runs, in strophe and antistrophe, ‘Oh, wouldn’t you like a bit of this?’ ‘And I could send you a bulb of that.’ Down delves the glad trowel into a clump, and it is halved, like mercy blessing him that gives and him that takes.”
Abundance is the only way I think gardens should be. Always full and generously planted with a diverse range and amount of plants so the garden is visually dynamic. Plant an ample number of plants that if needed you could share and not leave holes in the garden. Fill the garden with your basics, and remember to stagger the bloom time of accent plants so the garden is always spectacular. Abundance is easily created if you plant by height with taller plants and shrubs at the back through to low or groundcovers at the front.
Mystery or curiosity can be created by glimpses in the distance or creating obscured views to focal points that are not seen immediately on entering the garden. Intriguing pathways that set up a surprise factor and excitement as one walks through, giving a sense of anticipation.
Whimsy and fun in the garden in small amounts provides that personal touch and sense of fun and delight. I am not a fan of brightly coloured bits and pieces in the garden that to me seem garish and lack taste but a touch of whimsy here and there can be a terrific addition.
Style is created by careful choice of the elements in the garden rooms. If the various elements like pots, furniture, artworks, birdbaths, obelisks and arches are in the same style it will go towards a unified garden look. Contemporary versus vintage or, sleek and shiny versus rustic for example. Try to keep the elements the same age or the same style, remembering that as the garden grows, the pieces will also age. As they age will they still be the style you are after? So think about the materials things are made of as well as the style of the objects.
Before you start take a really good look at the space you have available and the style already inherent in your environment- the house, trees, large shrubs, entertaining areas, garage, pool and other structures that cannot be moved like water tanks etc. Study where the sun travels and the climate of the garden. Think about the sun, wind, frost, heat, shade of the area and what exactly it is you want the space to be. A personal hideaway, an area for children, an entertaining spot, a native garden with sculptures, an expansive lawn with herbaceous borders or a cottage garden. Look around your local area and see what grows best to give you a start on plant types that will thrive. And remember to check all the utility lines before starting to dig up lawns or make significant changes as broken pipes and services can be expensive repairs.
Words and Images Di Baker 2019 with the exception of two borrowed images from Chic and Antique and the image below from Unsplash.