Principles of Design

kimcocoDecember 28, 2010

I was perusing the University of Minnesota website and the information they have published regarding professional landscape design principals. So I'm looking specifically for feedback from professional certified landscapers on this forum...

The six principals of design:

1. Simplicity

Simplicity means understanding what is, and is not important in a landscape design. Details that will not have a major impact on the landscape are omitted to keep it uncluttered.

2. Variety

Variety is mixing up the form, texture, and color combinations in a landscape to create extra interest without sacrificing the simplicity of the design.

3. Balance

Balance is the relationship between elements in the landscape. Balance can be formal or informal. Formal balance would usually mean that one side of the landscape is a mirror of the other, while informal balance is when plant sizes and numbers are only relatively similar on both sides.

4. Emphasis


Plants and plant groupings provide a representation of the types of plants that will occupy an area once the landscape design is completed. A plant grouping might show a shrub border between properties, or it may represent a perennial bed location.

Specimen plants can be part of a larger planting, but usually stand alone in the landscape. Specimen plants provide specific seasonal interest or color through flowers, fruit, or leaves.

Accent plants are plants of special interest that are usually part of a larger planting. Accent plants provide interest throughout the seasons through specific forms, textures, colors, etc.

Key plants are plants that are usually placed in highly visible location. They can be used alone or in groups of three or more. They are associated with screening or softening of architectural features, such as building corners, steps, fences, etc. They can provide emphasis if the chosen species provides interesting seasonal interest, form or texture.

Plant groups are plants of the same species spaced so that when mature, they just touch each other and you can still see the outline of each individual plant.

Massed plants are plants of the same species spaced so that when mature, they grow together to form a solid area of that species. You will not be able to discern individual plants in a mass.

5. Sequence

Sequence is a gradual transition from one area to another within a landscape. A landscape with sequence has one element changing at a time rather than several changin at once. A landscape with a coarse-textured plant next to a fine-textured plant is an example of poor sequence.

6. Scale

Scale is the relative size of one part of a landscape to another. Scale may be the proportion or ratio of size between components in the landscape.


With regard to #5, I'm confused about the "poor sequence" concept in combining fine and coarse textures. I thought coarse textured plants next to fine textures is eye catching? Or is it that they can be planted next to eachother, but should be grouped together rather than onesies? For example, I plant a row of hostas in front of my finer textured boxwood for visual interest. I was also planning on adding Annabelle hydrangea along my foundation with a boxwood border, specifically for the textural contrast. This seems to go against this design principal...???

And, in that regard, doesn't this contradict principal #2 texture?

Maybe I'm over analyzing this, but I can't imagine any landscape where course textured plants are solely in a planting bed separate from fine textured. Why would you do that?

Here's the link:

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manda3(8a DFW Texas)

I think the key word here is 'next to'. I'm not a landscaper, but I can tell you this has to do with bold foundation plants as the background structure, followed by medium plants for visual interest, and sometimes outlining everything in frilly or delicate stuff. My new to me house has a huge, bold photinia next to a weak looking crape myrtle. It looks like crap. They are too close together with nothing else around them. I haven't decided what bold things I will be planting on the other side yet.

I think this website explains it better: "1ST COARSE TEXTURES are used for back drops , under trees as with an oild painting, large lush full colors, create a canvas to place other textures against. Coarse textures are usually the Base/foundation for all other textures. Coarse texture plants are large leafed can be either dark or light in color. Dark examples are split leaf philodendrums and for light color I like to use Elephant Leaf Alocasia spp. Another plant that has a unique flower and color is Crinum Lily 'Queen Emma' is an intro-native (more on that later). On side property lines using just two, Crinum lily's placed one on either side of a small tree like Drake Elm (fine texture), makes for a nice grouped setting. At back or front property areas I've used Sabal palmetto's (Cabage Palms) grouped in 3's with staggered hieghts and Chinese Fan palms planted 7-9 feet apart makes for a wonderful combo of coarse settings, that make for a pleasing tropical look that is quite durable to drought, heat and cold weather.

2ND is MEDIUM TEXTURED plantings are usually the second or the middle layer between coarse and fine. Not to be over looked, the medium texture is usually the most colorful of the textures. Firebush Hamalus virginana is one of the best natives with Orange-red flowers, darker foliage, however can grow to be a small tree. Golden Dew drop -Duranta repens has thorns so care must be used as to placing it, but Golden Dew Drop is a great plant choice for blue flowers and a golden pearl shaped fruit and light foliage. There are some many fine choices but care must be taken as to thorns and size, in most cases I've discovered planting 4-5 feet away is best to allow plants to grow 'in' together. Most shrubs/bushes will grow to be 10 feet from tip to tip. Sadly, I see landscapers and home-owners. purchasing 3gallon plants that are 30 inches tall, then planting 18 inches from an exterour wall in a 36 inch wide mulched bed that runs the length of the house. When asked why they planted so close, poeple have all sorts of excussess, the best one is; 'I'm not going to live that long' or'they told me it's a drawf plant!' (Years ago I've been fooled by that one too!)

3RD is FINE TEXTURE PLANTS are/ is an interesting group. One can plant a small to even large tree that have fine textured leaves and/or flowers like Cassia or Black Olive 'Shady Lady' which has unique branching structure running 90 degrees, parallel to the ground, reaching outward from the meduim textured trunk. However most ground-covers are fine in texture. Fine textured plants sometimes can be over bearing, I've seen many landscapes that have fine textured ground cover placed infort of fine textured flowering bushes and fine textured trees, such landscapes are just a big blurr as everything runs together and looks horrible, yet many landscapers do this repeatedly, the 'buffer' along US 41 at the Oaks in Sarasota is such a design, way to much use of fine textured plants with small amounts traces of medium and no coarse textures."

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 9:57AM
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manda3(8a DFW Texas)

Hm. That got cut off.

Here's the link:

And I said something like, what you have planned sounds fine. It's not going against the sequence. Just think about big and bold as anchors and everything else adds interest. :)

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 10:00AM
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If you pick up 5 textbooks on landscape design, you will likely get 5 different listings of design elements :-) There is very little agreement as to what exactly constitutes the "principles" of design - some sources will limit them to 5 or 6; others will expand that to 15-20 or more.

While I generally respect the info SULIS provides to home landscapers, I'm not sure that specific list of design elements is especially helpful. Obviously it raises some questions :-)

When I teach basic garden design classes, I limit these basic elements to 5 with a few subsets:
1) Form
2) Scale
3) Texture
4) Color
5) Unity

I think the element missing from the previous list and the one that will clarify your confusion is the last - unity. Unfortunately, my class notes are a Word document and not easily linked so I'll just copy them out for you.

5.Unity: Unity, sometimes referred to as 'order', is how the whole is perceived. Is the overall effect harmonious? Does everything fit together or is it scattered and unrelated? Unity pulls together all the principles of design and completes the composition.

Unity is not static. It reflects movement, created through patterns and lines, producing a rhythm. Unity incorporates balance or an equilibrium of the parts. What makes the composition satisfying is the stability, either real or imagined, that is carried. Balance just makes things look "right".

Unity also incorporates repetition, a continuing thread in the design generally defined by duplication. When any design element is repeated, the mind is better able to understand the composition as a whole, generating a sense of order. Repetition can be achieved through a duplication of any of the other design elements - form and line, patterns, sizes and scale, textures and colors.

NOTE: Repetition can be carried to extremes. The result is that the garden becomes monotonous or the effect so subtle that disorder is achieved rather than order.

Emphasis is another design concept that is most often included under unity or order. Emphasis refers to those garden elements that initially seize attention and to which the eye continually returns. It is an evaluation and prioritization of the most important elements and the less important elements in the garden. The parts of the composition should not be equal in their visual impact - certain parts should be unique, either of larger size relative to their neighbors, or of a significantly contrasting form, color or texture than the rest, depending on the function of the element. Again, if too many different elements of emphasis are introduced, the effect is lost. Emphasis can only be successfully achieved by limiting the number of dominant design elements.

Does that help at all? I would expand the SULIS element of "sequence" to include what is outlined above, particularly as it pertains to repetition. Repetition is what walks our eye through the garden, carrying or tying one space into another. The example of not placing a fine textured plant next to a coarse textured plant is just silly - contrasting textures is one of the elements that gives a garden interest and vitality. You just want to make sure that texture and textural contrast is applied in consideration with unity and repetition.

If you would like the full printout of my class notes on Design Elements, just send me an email and I'll be happy to send it to you.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 1:09PM
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Gardengal48, I seem to remember that you were writing a book on landscaping. Every time I read one of your posts I really feel like I have learned something. When it is available I hope you announce it in various forums as I would like to buy it. Or for that matter email me the info.. Thanks

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 7:01PM
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Ditto on beano.

Gardengal, I sent you a message via Gardenweb. Let me know if you don't get it.


    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 3:03PM
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Happy New Year to you all!
Being a visual type, I'll say that studying existing gardens has helped me more than any verbal instructions - as the latter can be given a very broad interpretation, and the interpretation is often based on what you've seen!
E.g. one could say that if you've got good emphasis, you can sacrifice some of the simplicity...

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 5:43AM
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kimcoco, I never got your message :-( GW's member profile pages are so messed up.......I have a new email address which seems to come and go per my member page. If I were to try and send myself an email it shows both the old (from) and the new (to). Go figure!!

Try again with the hotmail tag. That's the current one :-) Everything else the same except for that.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 1:23PM
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The discussion about design principles often leads to the confusion expressed by the OP, further confusion ensues when 'elements' and 'principles' are conflated.

When a hostess arranges food (the elements) on a table it is unlikely that she refers to a crib sheet (the principles). But if, after everything is laid out to her satisfaction, she itemized the stages that she went through to arrive there so that she could replicate it she would have a similar list to gardengals above. At the next dinner party the elements although different could be arranged similarly.

In other words I think landscape design is more instinctual than intellectual and a lot of the fun is removed from the process through over thinking. Any 'to do' list only has a value after it is transformed into a real thing, a list of ingredients is not a pudding: the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 10:45AM
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Oh - it's you Ink, have you been traveling around the globe or was it just a long dinner party?

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 8:29AM
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While I agree with Ink in theory, especially about the "over thinking" part, I also believe that it never hurts to have a basic understanding of the underlying principles that comprise any design endeavor.

I would never reduce them down to a crib sheet or recipe or any sort of formulaic approach to design but rather approach them as tools in understanding and creating the composition, much like a painter will approach a blank canvas or a photographer stage the 'right' shot.

The problem is locating them in a format that offers a reasonable layperson's understanding without creating any additional confusion. Sometimes I think landscape design texts are unnecessarily complicated in their presentation and give "design principles" some mystical quality that, if followed religiously, will result in an ideal design. Doesn't happen like that :-) There will always be that instinctual, creative/artistic element or happenstance that comes into play that brings basic or 'boring' design (to quote another thread) up to another level. I just think you get there faster if you are starting out with the right set of tools and that IMO requires at least an understanding of how design principles work together to influence the end result.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 12:29PM
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Inkognito says:

"In other words I think landscape design is more instinctual than intellectual and a lot of the fun is removed from the process through over thinking. Any 'to do' list only has a value after it is transformed into a real thing, a list of ingredients is not a pudding: the proof of the pudding is in the eating."

Food arrangement on my tabletop vs. landscape design is arbitrary, and I don't see the analogy between the two.

I don't have to concern myself with the growth rate of my bean sprouts, where my mashed potatoes will be placed from one day to the next, and if my centerpiece obstructs views, I don't have to dig it out of my tabletop to remove and replace it when the meal is finished.

By that standard, let's just throw away our drivers manual and just give every beginner our car keys and let them learn "instinctually" how to drive without having any basic understanding of a vehicle or how it operates. In this scenario, the "to do" list is the drivers manual that helps the operator understand how to drive the vehicle and learn the rules of the road. The "real thing" is the drivers license. Unless, of course, you want to "eat" your way into a ditch.

This is a waste of space.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 10:24PM
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Kim, I think both approaches may be true - for different personality types; and also for their preferred landscaping styles. Designers, unlike drivers, can err without fatal consequences (that is, if we're talking pure aesthetics, not slippery stairs).
And what about them principles when fashions change? One decade it's all about simplicity, then variety, then simplicity again...

    Bookmark   January 11, 2011 at 4:03AM
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"a waste of space" eh kim?

You see, the fallacy that design principles are like a rule book is exactly what my post was about . And I am fully aware of the fact that no landscape is set in aspic (see my response on woody's thread) and the impossibility of planning for every eventuality. Furthermore a driving manual will tell you to 'steer into' a skid which, strange as it may seem is what a driver does instinctively suggesting to me that the 'rule' was made after the event another point I was trying to make.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2011 at 8:54AM
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And what about them principles when fashions change?

Basic design principles remain unchanged regardless of 'fashion' or design fads - constructing a well-thought out, cohesive composition is independent of any popular trends. Like the drafting table and pencil, computer or new plant introductions, these are just part of the tools, although pretty elemental ones, a designer or homeowner has at hand to create their vision.

I'm not at all sure comparing landcape design - or for that matter, any of the design professions - to something like driving a car or setting a dinner table has much validity. They are just not comparable activities, although creating a "tablescape" as the entertaining world likes to call it comes close, and both the process and the desired result are quite different. It is oranges and apples (well, maybe the table setting is oranges and tangerines :-)). Try comparing landscape design to creating a painting or an art photograph and I think you'll come a lot closer to hitting the mark.

And I'm not at all sure you need to intellectualize the design principles. Rather, all they require is a good understanding of what they contribute to the success of the design. Once that understanding is in place, the use of them to assist in the creation of the design composition then becomes instinctual. Or at the very least, second nature. This is what distinguishes 'art' from just a painting or an art photograph from just a snapshot. Or a memorable, functional landscape design from just a bunch of arranged plants.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2011 at 9:19AM
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Forgive me gg my analogy was only meant to make a point. you probably know enough about me to know that we are on the same page.

Now what happens to a landscape designers mistakes as opposed to a "tablescapers" mistakes I wonder?

    Bookmark   January 11, 2011 at 6:05PM
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I tend to look at landscape/garden design as a creative art and I perform it instinctually. It is very important to understand both design elements and principals of design, however. When I started designing I did use the principals of design as a sort of check list; I would go through my designs and make sure they accomplished all they should according to the principals and make changes accordingly. Now I don't need to do that any more, all of that comes naturally in the process I use to create the design.

I believe the description of sequence is poorly worded, but it is an important concept to understand. Sequence is not exactly unity. Sequence is more like the "flow" of unity in my opinion. In math, where the concept of sequence comes from, a sequence is like a set with members but it differs from a set because in a sequence order matters. I would say sequence in design is based on the order of the individual elements, whereas unity is the sum of all the elements.

In the description of unity gg says

"Unity is not static. It reflects movement, created through patterns and lines, producing a rhythm. Unity incorporates balance or an equilibrium of the parts. What makes the composition satisfying is the stability, either real or imagined, that is carried. Balance just makes things look "right"."

I think UNITY is created by the sum of rhythm, balance, and repetition while SEQUENCE is the way elements are ordered to create rhythm balance and repetition. While sequence can create unity, unity cant create sequence and they are not exactly the same thing. I agree that you just need to get them both "right".

I my mind it works for substitute "flow" for sequence, and getting the flow right makes a unified design. Flow or sequence is about transition but the example of coarse and fine texture is what is confusing. I think what was meant by this statement is larger scale than the way kim is thinking about it. Say you have an area of your landscape that is boxwood with hostas, lined up in rows as you described. Then you want to have a (god forbid) Yucca garden. If you just put a bunch of yuccas in next to the boxwood hedge/hosta garden area it would look disjointed, disconnected and abrupt. If towards each end of your boxwood hedge, you alternated 2 or 3 hostas with 1 yucca and repeated that pattern 2 or 3 times and then planted a massing of yucca on each side of the hedge,then you would have created a smoother transition and more balance and some repetition; all of which would fit the definition of sequence. All of that is about the balance of coarse and fine texture, but not in terms of individual elements but in terms of the entire landscape. (And I have NO IDEA why I chose Yuccas except that it was the most distinct foliage I could think of that would grow with the named plants. I really am not particularly fond of them in any situation. And they would be truly ugly without the proper sequencing!)

This is a lot longer than anything I ever post - I hope it doesn't go on too much. And I hope it makes sense!
I am not sure what the "this is a waste of space" comment means - can you explain?
Thanks for posting the topic - this is an interesting distinction to me.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2011 at 7:34PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

A lot of talk, but no examples. I think this illustrates a lot of what is being said. Flow, repetition, scale, etc.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2011 at 12:04PM
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One more:

This one seems to me to satisfy all the principles mentioned above. I'm curious if someone disagrees - that would show we're interpreting the principles differently.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2011 at 12:39PM
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Now that we have two pictures of beautiful gardens that we are told illustrate design principles correctly applied would anyone care to deconstruct those garden pictures?

    Bookmark   January 14, 2011 at 5:58PM
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Principles listed by the OP:
1. Simplicity
2. Variety
3. Balance
4. Emphasis
5. Sequence
6. Scale
How unity can be left off of this list is beyond me.

Many of these often have other terms describing the same thing (sequence/transition, order/unity, focalization/emphasis, scale/proprtion)

The statements made below each of these really don't belong in the understanding of these elements. Some suggest that some degree of one element or another is right or wrong. This is really not accurate and is contrary to understanding the principle. A fine texture next to a coarse texture is not inherently wrong as many have pointed out.

One thing that has to be understood is that although all principles exist in all compositions, it does not mean that each impact any particular composition in a meaningful way. One may or may not be noticeable or it may or may not be able to overcome a different principle present in that particular landscape.
The main point is that a good landscape does not have to seek perfection in each principle. One can overcome another or be very subordinate to another. Awareness of these principles may be a concious effort or you may just think you feel what is right. I am one of those who likes to know why I feel something, so I think it is important to understand principles, have the ability to decipher them in the field, and then to apply what you learn from that whether you do that in a concious exacting manner or more subtly.
I like a list of principles that starts with Unity then moves to balance, proportion, rhythm, focalization, transition, and repetition. There are grey areas between some of these and whether you break them up into five or twelve principles is up to you.
It has to be made clear that all of these can have the volume turned way down or turned up very high. Either way, the principle exists. The fact that a particular principle is not evident in a particular composition does not mean that it does not make an impact. Think of it as turning the bass off on your car stereo if you have a lot of bump in your trunk - you are impacting the music.
There is no checklist of to what degree you use any of these principles to make your landscape work (clearly a point missed by the authors of that website).

    Bookmark   January 14, 2011 at 10:24PM
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What principles are at play in Mike's picture that make it work?

1. Simplicity - is it simple?
2. Variety - does variety make it?
3. Balance - what is balancing it?
4. Emphasis - where is that focal point?
5. Sequence - where are those transitions?
6. Scale - is this built on proportions making it work?

Not so easy, is it?

    Bookmark   January 14, 2011 at 10:32PM
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Looking at Mike's pic:
1. Simplicity is not very obvious, but it's there - as lack of bright annuals, straight lines and other features that might look like they don't belong.
2. Variety - lots of it.
3. Balance - it's there, but I cannot define how.
4. Emphasis, in this picture, seems to be the lawn.
5. Sequence - the dwarf conifers provide a transition between the rock plants and large trees.
6. Scale - same as balance; I can see it, but can't verbalize.

Is it perfect? From a compositional, abstract point of view, yes, but something else is nagging me... must be the rocks; they don't look like they've been there a thousand years. Should we call this the "nature-savvy" principle, specific to landscapes but not to other applications of design?

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 3:20AM
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We must take into account that we are looking at a photograph, photographs as you know freeze one moment in time and fix the viewpoint I think the unity and balance in the second picture is a lot to do with the framing of the photograph. It is also worth noting how it is colour that holds the whole thing together.

I think you find that Mikes garden will retain its basic structure year round and at certain times those rocks will play a bigger part not sure that the second garden will look so good in February. Many years ago Mike impressed me with his notion of a 'Captains chair' by which he meant emphasizing choice views which makes sense in such a large garden. In a smaller garden the view from the deck may be of major importance but in one that you can stroll around a different interpretation of emphasis is required. Mike also makes use of specimen conifers, too much variety to score points in the simplicity section, but conifers seem to do well on the west coast, those in Texas may not be so lucky. What I mean is that in any ideal garden design you have to decide whether it is part of the surroundings or not, if you decide that it should fit in and not be enclosed and separate concepts like 'unity' take on a different meaning.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 10:26AM
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I think that the second image is strong no matter how you frame it.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 12:14PM
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Are you disagreeing with me Andrew? Do you think the format of your pictures (1. portrait. 2. & 3. square) changes anything within the context of design principles? Would changing the viewpoint change anything. In my opinion it is only the last of your zooms that retain anything like the strength of the composition of the original.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 12:56PM
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Mike's picture:

1. Simplicity
The principle is not that it has to be simple. The principle is that any composition has a degree of simplicity or complexity to it. That is not a simple composition at all. It is rocks, landform, color, texture, positive vs. negative space, ... The thing to understand is that the principle of "simplicity" is not saying that a landscape needs to be simple - only that it will have one degree or another of simplicity in it under any circumstance.

2. Variety - tons of variety in this, but are there not other landscapes with very little variety that are successful? Again, the principle is that there is a range of variety present in every landscape. The principle is not that a big variety is essential. Principles are things that are ever present, not something that you have to have a certain amount of. Variety can work against unity, yet this has unity.

3. Balance - balance is a tricky concept because people instinctively think about size and distribution of like objects. This often leaves them ignoring other factors that effect balance. Balance in a composition is the distribution of visual weight. In this image, the lawn has the strongest visual weight as a single item. There is a huge amount of complexity to balance in this because of plant form, colors, rocks, landform,... A mass of color over here might balance a tall plant over there, ... for every introduction there is a mitigating action to balance the composition (whether it is done right waway or as the composition progresses)

4. Emphasis - the most effective thing about this type of composition is the purposeful lack of a focal point while having multiple strong elements that are typically assumed to be focal points. This one turns down the volume of focalization.

5. Sequence (flow, transition) - every composition has it to one degree or another.This one builds and supports a pathway that takes you somewhere that you can not yet see. The grass path is a strong part of that. The flatness of the path compared to the undulating landform supports that. The solid even color of the path in a landscape of textures and competing forms strengthens that.
In the plantings there is layering caused by toography, contrasting colors, textures, form, and materials giving lots of depth.

6. Scale (proportion)- again, there is no magic formula.In this case the width of the path, the size of the rocks, the form and size of the plants, the masses of color are all part of it.

7. UNITY - If you took the rocks out of this composition, it would fall apart. This is a difficult type of planting to pull off because it has so many things that want to pull it apart. I don't know if Mike put this together or if he has just supplied the image, but whoever did this was very aware of introducing as much chaos as possible while at the same time keeping unity and balance. The end result is a composition that evokes a sense of peace. Much like silence in a crowded stadium is quiter than silence in an empty room, a landscape with so much contrasting elements while maintaining balance and unity creates calm. It is very well done.

This is not a good example for someone just trying to learn what principles are because it is done at an advanced level. Principles should initially be studied in very basic situations and one at a time. Then you can start to see how they interact.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 1:05PM
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I agree with you, Ink, that the way any picture is framed influences how it is perceived. All that I am saying in this case is that this particular composition is very strong. I did those croppings last night because I had the same opinion that you had. I was very surprised when I could not get a poor composition out of it no matter how I cropped it - testament to a very strong composition (or a very strong portion of a composition, as we don't know if there was junk all around - to support your point)

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 1:12PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

A sense of scale contributes to unity.

I left out simplicity for a reason. I'm a plant nut. With so many different plants and ten acres to play with it's hard to come up with a lot of simplicity. That, coupled with the placement of trees I planted long ago when I didn't know as much as I do now, makes for some difficult decisions as to how to design around them.
Ink, you remembered the 'Captain's Chair'! Good one. I'll have to go over that design approach again sometime. It's basically making design decisions for your front yard from the chair you set in when watching TV and monitoring the driveway for anybody arriving. Not from across the street looking for curb appeal. The backyard, from the patio or kitchen window. There's where you simplify the design process.
When designing gardens for non gardeners I kept it simple. It was the only way for it to succeed. Too many designers try to put 'their' garden into a non gardeners yard. Won't work.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 1:43PM
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Excellent work Andrew.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 1:59PM
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Ink - true, it's just a two-dimensional photo, taken at peak season, and won't give a complete impression of the place, but in this park (designed by Piet Oudolf, and located in Enkoping, Sweden) there really are a zillion great views in any direction you look.
I've been there in May, June and August - it's admirable how the colour scheme changes, while staying harmonious; have yet to see other seasons... I'm guessing March-April are the weakest time (not a single conifer, and almost no other evergreens are present). Maybe this sort of complex gardens should have a "don't try this at home" warning sign attached?

Here is a link that might be useful: Same park in August, and a few shots from elsewhere

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 5:21AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I agree with Ink, excellent work Andrew. You broke it down very well. You put it into words far better than I could have. It's just a picture of part of my garden. Taken from a different view it wouldn't look as well.

With so many different plants I have to pay attention to scale to make it work. Work, in this case, means you have to feel comfortable in it because everything looks like it belongs.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 9:10AM
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I think it is also important to remember that photos usually reflect only a portion of a total landscape and therefore may not represent a complete illustration of a 'good' application of design principles. However, these two examples are both particularly well-considered in that regard :-) But the repetition, flow and balance that come together to provide a sense of unity might be more obvious when looking at a garden - including the residence and any other structures and how they relate - in toto. Having had the privilege to see many more photos of Mike's garden on other forums, it's my feeling he has grasped the concept of repetition very well indeed as similar plant types (not necessarily the exact same plant) and other elements are used throughout. This pulls the eye through the garden and offers the sense of wholeness or unity that is required so that the garden doesn't read as a lot of disconnected planting areas. A pretty great example of well-designed collector's garden!

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 11:34AM
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One of the great things about Mike's picture is that it demonstrates how turning up the volume of some principles can overcome the others. This opens opportunities to "break the rules of conformity".
This is exactly why I really don't like the added language in the originally referenced publication. It made rules of conformity that, while making it easier to be successful, certainly are not true. One of the difficulties of writing about design is that it is a long process to go from understanding concepts to getting to the x's and o's. The reader wants to get to the x's and o's and it tends to make writers give readers what they want rather than to go unread.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 12:24PM
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Timbu: I know and admire the mans work he was a pioneer of ornamental grass usage and also leaving seed heads on plants such as Rudbeckia. Both of these extend the interest of a perennial garden and are so lush that a bare period in the spring when the grasses are cut down is acceptable in my opinion but is still radical to the mainstream.

Andrew has brought some very valuable if advanced ideas to this thread, there is a tendency to approach design principles as though they necessarily carry equal weight and are dealt with in order so that simplicity is accomplished and confused when we get to variety. Unity is definitely the biggy but what does it mean exactly? Mike gives us a clue when he says

"With so many different plants I have to pay attention to scale to make it work. Work, in this case, means you have to feel comfortable in it because everything looks like it belongs."

so, in this case I think the unity is achieved by making "everything look(s) like it belongs", I think a statement like this (yours may be different) should be the reference point that provides the unity and a guide as to how to apply the principles.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 5:05PM
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Thinking it through, unity is probably not a principle but more of a goal. It is almost interchangeable with "composition". If you have unity, then you have a composition. So there may be good reason it was kept of the list supplied by the link that the OP gave us.

The cool thing is that if you study a composition (planting) that appears to be successful yet non-conforming long enough, you figure out that it may not use some principles in a meaningful way, but beats you over the head with others in order to overcome those.

The danger, of course, is that if you are either unaware or not thinking about other principles, they could also overcome whatever it is that you are working with. This is why understanding them is important whether or not you want to use them. Typically, anyone is going to "feel" that something is not right, anyway. Knowing what that is goes a long way to making quick corrections or avoiding issues in the first place.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 8:55PM
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I have to say that I really liked the "bump in your trunk" music analogy. Is that the same as junk in your trunk?

It seems like the more we talk about these elements the more linked they become especially as we are discussing them in light of the two photographs.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 3:01PM
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I posted a youtube link a few years ago that I think is a great analogy. It is "Bootsy's basic funk formula". He is a funk bass player explaining "the one". That is hitting a note at the top of the beat which is such a strong unifying element to the music that you can "do anything you want to" in between. I think of it as being the same as being so strong with one principle that you can "do anything you want to" with the other principles.

I'm pretty sure I was alone on that one. Google it if you want to see how warped I am. ... if you have good speakers and some bass capabilities, it might explain the difference between "junk in the trunk" and "bump in the trunk". This would be bump.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 8:25PM
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I was joking about the junk, but I do really think its a good analogy. And now that you have explained it further it is even better. I am really not musical at all, but in this discussion music is the perfect example of how different elements can be "turned up" or "turned down".

I did watch the video; its perfect. a perfect example. I love it.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 8:12AM
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