Landscape design and gardening are very close to my heart. It all started when my father bought a beautiful property on the sea cliffs of California. The home was a large Spanish style affair made from adobe. It was surrounded by fuchsia, bougainvillea, rose gardens and needed a lot of weeding. Cleverly, he tied my allowance to gardening and then encouraged me to study horticulture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, which I did. Landscape design was my favorite class and when I went back to college later (to the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington) I picked up several clients which helped me pay for my schooling. In some cases I worked on garden maintenance and in other cases I was fortunate to be able to redesign their yards.
I recently joined the Master Gardener program to update my skills and learn new things – mostly about organic gardening, composting and worm bins! However Saturday I attended a continuing education course by Bruce Bennett called Simple Garden Design Concepts for Clinics and Ourselves and was reminded of the main principles in landscape design. Here is a synopsis:
We have the big five of design: Balance, contrast, repetition, rhythm, and focal point.
Balance gives equilibrium, harmony, and stability. One large shrub vs. three small shrubs can be balanced as we look for weight with negative/positive spaces.
We don’t want to try too hard to achieve balance unless want a formal garden which can look contrived.
Contrast is the easiest concept. For example, we can harmonize with different shades of green or different colors.
Repetition creates cohesiveness. Repeat colors in different plants or use same plants over again. Roses can be a vignette of different species.
Rhythm and flow control the movement of the eye. We can highlight or obscure an area using plant material such as grasses which provide movement and sound.
Put the tallest plants in the back to draw eye up or frame a view. Introduce low cover with taller plants (I remember that we need two-thirds fine ground cover to balance a tree with large leaves).
Paths and hardscape can be designed to appear and disappear – this lends a mystery to what is in the back. A straight path indicates we just want to “get there and get it done”.
A focal point os the first place the eye lands – an arbor or bench; it gives eye a place to rest. Sheds, sculptures, or plants can be focal points but they need interest throughout the year. Evergreens can work well or certain Japanese maples with beautiful bark and branching structure.
Plant odd numbers as even numbers indicate formality – if one dies you will notice.
My favorite part of landscape design is the beginning – taking the plan of the home on the property and drawing in all of the main features that are staying – mature trees and shrubs, patios and the driveway. Sketch in the placement of windows and doors and figure out what views to enhance or hide. Draw in the various use areas and paths of travel.
From here, begin to add trees – deciduous if shade is needed in summer, evergreen to block a few or provide year long interest. Add in any landscaping curves or beds.
Choose plant materials – will the garden be full of natives or would species from other countries work? In the Northwest we can pull from other similar climates – is the yard shady and rainy or is it south facing and hot (such as those on Phinney Ridge). I’ve seen everything from Italian style gardens to those that use palm trees as a focal point.
When I studied in San Luis Obispo we use many plants from Australia and Africa such as eucalyptus and a variety of colorful flowers and bushes.
It takes a bit of time but I suggest drawing the plan and then working on it a little bit at a time, month by month.
I love visiting the University of Washington Arboretum as within an hour I can enjoy various styles of gardens with plant materials from around the world.