The components of landscape design
Ryan Summerlin July 25, 2009
When you decide to take a trip into Denver from Summit County, it all happens by design – you go through a specific thought process and incorporate all the things that you can possibly think of to make your trip successful. You ask yourself questions like ?What do I need to take? or ?Is there any thing I need to do, to make my trip successful?? The elements that are included in this ?design? are mostly physical in nature. They will probably include a vehicle, maybe a friend or two, specific clothes to wear or a list of things to do while in Denver. These elements are the basic materials used to accomplish this trip to Denver. They are then integrated together and become part of a scenario that involves how these elements are going to be used. These design principles might include thought (you set up this trip as thoughts initially), movement (you walk out to your car and drive to get there), repetition (you complete a series of repetitive movements while driving) and sequence (you pass several towns on the way letting you know you are getting closer to Denver). These principles describe how specific elements are to be used and experienced, while you are in the process of producing a design.
The important elements of landscape design include line, form, color, texture and scale. Using these elements together, in accordance with the principles of unity, balance, transition, proportion, rhythm, focalization, repetition and simplicity, is what results in a beautifully designed landscape.
Line is related to eye movement or the flow of a space. The creation of lines in the landscape depends upon its purpose or how it is used. In landscape design, lines can be inferred by bed arrangements and how they interact with each other. It could be a meandering walkway or the top edge of a retaining wall. Vertical objects create lines also, but it might be with the differences in the height of a tree canopies or shrub massing. Straight lines tend to be forceful and direct, and provide structure and stability. They also direct an observer’s eye to a point much quicker than curved lines. Straight, parallel lines can emphasize distance by the natural illusion of convergence, similar to a perspective drawing. Curved and free flowing lines are smooth and gentle, directing the eye more slowly, creating relaxation and a more natural feeling. These lines can lead the eye around things and invite you into other spaces. Since lines are one-dimensional they are best used to encourage movement either fast or slow. Once the lines connect and enclose they become forms.
Form and line are closely related. Lines form the edges or outlines of objects, while form fills spaces. Form relates to area or size and shape. When curves form circles and lines form rectangles, they become two-dimensional spaces, and in the case of shrubs and trees, these lines become three-dimensional shapes. Trees are typically defined by the branching patterns, while shrub forms are determined by growth pattern. Plant forms include upright, oval, columnar, spreading, creeping, broad, narrow, weeping, etc. Structures also have a specific form, and need to be considered as important elements when including them as part of a design.
When designing your landscape, be aware of the lines you are creating with your beds and walkways, and the feeling you are creating with the placement of your trees and shrubs. Do the lines lead your eye where you want your eye to go? Do they direct you toward the beautiful views, or to the dumpster next door? Do the forms (shrubs and trees) organize your property, by creating the spaces you want, or do they create more disorder and confusion? Next time you are hiking, take the time to look at the forms in a grove of Aspen, the verticality of a tall spruce or the way your eye is directed when looking down a river valley of willows and grass. You might be surprised at how the design elements of nature direct your eye while relaxing your psyche.
Next week I will discuss the remaining elements of color, texture and scale and their importance in the landscape.
John Longhill is the owner of John Longhill – Landscape Architect (www.john-landscapearcthitect.com) A site planning and landscape design office located in Silverthorne. John can be reached by phone at
(970) 468-0924 or e-mail at email@example.com.