Repetition in design -help!

cynthiainsouthflaApril 4, 2012

Hi, I post occasionally on the Florida web, but am a newbie here.

I am working on certain areas in my yard and am trying to use good design principles. My question has to do with how far to take repetition. I understand its purpose is to present a cohesive scheme and allow the eye to flow across the landscape, but my question is how far I have to take it.

I have six landscaped areas in various areas of my front yard, four anchored by queen palms and two by live oaks. Beneath all six are mamey crotons, accented by orange epinendrems (sp?) and bright green foxtail ferns. It is a beautiful arrangement and well suited to south florida heat, but I'd like to try some other things in my yard also.

Across the driveway in the front corner I have a frangipani all by itself. I want to make a landscape island there also and am wondering if I have to use the same plants, or if I can use a similar color scheme, maybe orange and yellow cannas, or a different kind of croton or something?

I know I should not put something completely unconnected (or at least I think I do). The yard is good-sized, so these things are not right up against each other.

Does anyone have any guidance for me? Thank you in advance.

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According to a new Florida landscape statute (just passed in January of this year) REPETITION must be used in no less than 25% of any new landscape, but not to exceed measured on a square footage basis. Hence, existing landscaping is exempt as it is "grandfathered in." This means that you don't have to worry about anything that you've already got... just the new stuff you do from here on out. Fines are only monetary... like a speeding ticket. There is no jail time so you don't have to worry about that. Thank you Tallahassee!

Your question is akin to asking "How much smile should Mona Lisa have?" And the answer is "Just the right amount." The concept of "repetition" is a guideline to be aware of, and ask yourself along the way if you're achieving it. The only likely harm in achieving too much repetition is that the result MIGHT be boring. (No real guaranty.) The likely harm in not achieving enough, is that the result could be unattractive. So it's about using the principle as much to your advantage as you can. Getting in the "sweet spot" is not something that can be measured by accountants. It's an element of art that is highly subjective and will be measured different ways by different people. That said, when it's summed up, all the different people will generally appraise it in roughly the same way. Though many people have no idea of how to create beauty, they generally recognize it when they see it.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 2:43PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Repetition can occur using form, color, or pattern. Examples: use more palms, but different varieties. Use more epidendrums, but different colors. Repeat your existing color combinations elsewhere in the garden using different plants. The repetition can also be in the form of materials or hardscape: use of a certain type of stone throughout the garden, a series of retaining walls, a related set of very large urns.

Your garden as you describe it sounds really beautiful. Probably one of its strengths is contrast -- contrasting colors, forms, and textures.

If I could see photos showing the entire house and garden, I might be able to make a few suggestions.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 6:00PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

A few plants that might extend the color theme and handle the heat could include things like Bulbine frutescens and B. frutescens Hallmark, Aechmea blanchetiana Orange, the cannas you suggested, or other plants that pick up on either the forms/textures of the other major plantings. It does sound like an attractive garden as is, posting photos would generate even more suggestions.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 1:37AM
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Thanks for the responses, Yardvaark, catkim and bahia. I will try to take some pics this weekend. I wanted to this morning before I came to work, but we had rain this morning.

Although I'm not familiar with the first two plants you mentioned, bahia, I love the idea of the orange Aechmea. I have a number of bromeliads in various places in my yard, but most of them are in filtered light situations. I've seen those beautiful orange aechmeas, but they tend to be expensive. I'll think about biting the bullet though.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 1:33PM
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Brad Edwards

That statute sounds really ridiculous. I can understand wanting uniformity, but within the range of 24-40% get out. What if you had the room and wanted to plant a large palm like a canary island date, but it didn't entirely go...


Like the canna idea as well, it might go well with the tropical theme, I love the purple variety with red blooms, they are usually around 3 foot in height not the insanely tall ones.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 5:37PM
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Oceandweller, the "new Florida law" was a little absurd humor. Not real. But your 2nd paragraph had me rolling on the floor laughing!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 7:41PM
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Okay, here is a picture of the house overall. I have one closer too.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 10:22AM
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I hope these pictures help. The first gives a view from across the yard to show the existing sweep of landscaping.

This one is a closer picture of the frangipani all by itself. I am trying to decide how much of the existing plant material I need to repeat in order to make the frangipani bed cohesive with the rest.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 11:03AM
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It's much easier to view if you put the photos directly in the thread. To do that, use photobucket's "share" feature to find the html code for each picture. Paste the code in your message.

To answer your initial question about repetition and bed creation, It's going to be to your advantage (the property's advantage) if you maximize unity from one element to the next. Beds should look like they are from the same "family." Of course, the plant material that's in them must comply with the cultural conditions supplied... light, water, etc. But, as much as possible, create elements that lend the same flavor across the entire span of the yard. If I understand your property, you have a pair of queen palms flanking the drive entrance. Hypothetically, if you were remove one queen palm and install an entirely different kind of tree... a live oak, for example... have you strengthened the design, or weakened it? Because the two queen palms work together as a pair to create a "formal" entrance, changing one out would weaken the design. But it's not just the queen palms that are doing this job. The base (bed) they are rising out of is part of the complete gateway system. Matching the beds at the base strengthens the design.

While beds farther away from the drive are bases for unmatched trees (oak/frangipani) it would be good to have as a goal, some sort of balance across the yard. Overall bed size and, especially, shape, could relate though the specific plant material in them might not.

As a general comment, I think you could enlarge the size of the beds some. To me, they look a little "pinched" relative to the overall size of your lawn and most of the trees they "support". Increasing their size some is an opportunity to add more drama to the overall "stage set." The overall appearance would be stronger if the beds were kept simple. Usually, one element per bed is sufficient. However, there's nothing wrong with incorporating annual color along with something else in a tasteful, balanced way.

Also, I'd be thinking about How that Oak is to be shaped when it's 60' or more tall. Should it be low branched, with trunks fanning out at 7' above the ground? Or should branching begin higher up? While it's young is the time to be making corrections. If changes are desired, it's much more difficult to accomplish them after the tree has been allowed to grow wrong for some time. To my thinking, it's presently too low-branched for its size.

In the following images, would the overall design be strengthened if each pot or bed of color was of mixed colors?... If each was a different color from the other?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 12:54PM
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Thanks for the information on incorporating the pictures, yardvaark. I'm new to these forums and was not completely sure how to do it.

If i understand you, you are saying that I do not have to use the same plants, but should try to keep something in common with the other beds, color, for example.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 2:12PM
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That's what I'm saying... continue a "theme" (in whatever manner you can) so that parts of your property appear as if they belong to the whole.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 2:34PM
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BTW, I had a senior moment and said queen palms and they are actually foxtails. The queens are in back, not that it probably matters.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 5:17PM
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No, it doesn't matter. I thought they were just thick, unusually full queens.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 5:27PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Cynthia, aren't the palms actually Royals/Roystonea's? I'd also suggest that greatly increasing the size of the beds at the existing palms would add aesthetically to the overall look, maybe to something more like 8 to 15' across. Mass plantings of repeated combinations of the plants you already have, in combination with new ones. Larger/wider planting areas should readily accommodate using massed combos with 3 to 4 different plant types. The orange Epidendrum orchids and the Foxtail Asparagus ferns give you upright fine textured foliage, which could be balanced with coarser accents such as Agave desmettiana 'Joe Hoak ' or the orange Aechmea blanchetiana or other large landscape bromeliads such as Portea petropoliteana or Hohenbergia for larger contrasting foliage, or something like purple foliaged Cannas or Canna 'Tropicana'. The Bulbine frutescen could be massed as a low blooming ground cover, or you could use a hot colored ground cover such as Setcreasia pallida 'Purple Heart' or Iresine herbstii. Furcrea selloana variegata or Euphorbia tirucallii 'Sticks on Fire's or Euphorbia cotiniifolia could also be used as shrub sized colorful accents in enlarged beds. All of these plants are quite commonly used in south Florida, and can be seen to great effect in some of the borders designed by Raymond Jungles at the Fairchild Botanic Gardens. All of the plants I've suggested have a more intensely saturated color and tropical foliage effect that will hold up to the intense white light of your summers, as well as looking colorful year round as they are more reliant on foliage color than flowers.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 6:46PM
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Bahia, I was told that they were foxtails when they were installed, but again, I claim no expertise on this matter.

Are the suggestions for the new frangipani bed or for expanding the existing beds? I was thinking of adding another tree with the frangipani, or perhaps two to make it an odd number, in addition to the plants below.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 4:24PM
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The geometry of improvements to the bed should be worked out in plan view (to scale). Create a plan that shows the existing elements to start with and then explore various ideas on copies of it or use tracing paper on top of it. Explore various shapes/sizes. I would suggest that you do not want to come much closer to the road with the beds around palms (except maybe just the smallest amount.) They need to expand in other directions. This illustrates how a designer could have been useful when they were installed as it looks awkward to have a tree right on the edge of a bed. Nevertheless, you have to work with what you have as I don't think you want the bother or expense of transplanting them. Adding 2 more frangipani would be a plus. Lone plants look a little lost with lots of empty space.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 4:40PM
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Sadly, yaardvark, the palms and their beds were installed by a pro (or supposedly). In all honesty, the designers I have used have not impressed me. One had me putting the queen palms way too close to the house and they ended up being moved to the back yard. He also called for the use of other materials that either failed to thrive or ended up being ugly.

The second was better. At least I liked most of what he did, although you don't like his beds.

I've been trying to learn on my own, because the things I've done myself have been better thought out than what they've done.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 5:01PM
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Design is the most difficult aspect of the landscape industry to learn. There is a wide range of ideas about "what is good" and of variables that can affect the outcome of a project. Consequently, it's not that difficult to obtain less than desirable results. While many landscape contractors perform design functions, they may actually have little or no design ability. If one is seeing examples of a contractors work, it's important to know who did the design, not just the installation. When picking a designer, it's best to see examples of prior work and have a sense that their work is what one likes.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 11:57AM
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The principles of design come as a set and highlighting just one such as 'repetition' is obviously going to upset the balance, another one. The search for a set of rules that will guarantee success is a useful search but will always recede the closer you get.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 7:51PM
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