The Principles of Landscape Design

Understanding the basics of landscape design principles will inform the way you design your outdoor living areas and overall landscaping. These principles help both homeowners and professional designers create functional, visual appealing outdoor spaces that have a cohesive, harmonious look.

Before you design or redesign your landscape, go through this list of eight principles to better understand how each ties into creating a unified space that will serve your purposes and is pleasing to the eye.

Basic Landscape Design Principles

1. Unity

We start with unity as first on the list because all of the other landscape design principles feed into this one. Balance, scale, transition, and each of the other principles you will find below is instituted with the goal of creating unity in your yard and outdoor living spaces.

A unified landscape design is harmonious and pleasing to the eye. There is not a cacophony of colors or textures that do not complement each other, but rather, there are balance and symmetry that make visual sense and make the space more enjoyable.

You can achieve unity in your landscape design by choosing an overall theme for the design, selecting complementary colors and textures, implementing smooth transitions, and making sure you plan the entire landscape before breaking ground.

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2. Balance

The principle of balance has to do with how you place items in the landscape to achieve a sense of harmony. For example, in a formal landscape design, you may place plants, trees, and other features to essentially mirror each other for a symmetrical visual. In less formal designs, you may change up the features a bit more for a more interesting, varied look, but you still want to make sure you have balance through your overall design. This means you do not want to put several tall trees on one side of your yard, and then a low-growing groundcover on the other side. This will throw off the balance of your landscaping and look lopsided.

3. Scale

This principle is about the size of the various features and aspects of your landscape design and how they fit together as a whole. Adhering to the principle of scale means choosing and placing features so that they are proportionate to other features of your landscaping and to the architecture of your home. This is one of the principles that reminds you to consider the style and size of your home when designing landscaping. This is because it is important that you choose features in a size that does not dwarf a smaller home or become lost against a large façade with intricate architecture.

For example, if you have a 1,200-square-foot bungalow, an ornate, 12-foot fountain is probably not the best choice for the center of your driveway. However, if you have an expansive, Italianate mansion, that might be a fitting choice.

landscape design-principles

4. Texture

When we think about texture in landscaping, most folks think of the feel and look of leaves and branches or the overall look of plants and bushes. This is definitely part of texture, and it is important to work towards cohesion as you choose plants and trees with different textures. However, it is also important to remember that there are many other textures to consider, including decks and patios, walkways and driveways, and your home and outbuildings. You will also need to factor in the texture of different groundcovers, such as gravel, wood chips, or artificial turf.

5. Color

Among all of the landscape design principles on this list, color is often the one that is the most fun for homeowners. Choosing colors is critical to how your design comes out and how your landscaping will make you, your family, and your guests feel. Whether you choose warm tones or cool tones, bright hues or pastels, the colors you choose create both a look and a feeling.

For example, blues and greens create a relaxing atmosphere, while reds and oranges are festive and inviting.

Color can also help define certain areas or to create a focal point. For example, you might create a relaxing moonlight garden filled with white blooms and silvery foliage, or you might plant bright flowers near a favorite feature to attract the eyes of your guests.

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6. Form

Form has to do with the shape and size of features, such as structures, individual plants, or groupings of plants. The shape and size of your patio, your gates, your pergola, your swimming pool, your trees, and the plants in the borders along your fence all fall under form.

Work with your landscape designer to choose forms that work within your space and that complement each other to create a cohesive, harmonious overall look.

7. Line

Line could also be considered flow, since this is how you direct the eyes of your guests and also how you direct traffic. In modern landscape design, you will see straight lines that create a clean look. For a more relaxed, informal look, you might instead choose curving lines with pathways that meander through your yard and plant groupings that create intimate seating areas.

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8. Transition

Transition, which could also be referred to as sequence, is how you arrange features and transition from one area to the next. Few landscape designs call for abrupt changes that would take away from flow and the overall visual appeal. In most cases, you want to include gradual changes in size, texture, and color to create appealing transitions throughout your outdoor living areas and yards.

Landscape Design Resources

As you work on designing or redesigning your landscape using these landscape design principles, here are some resources that will help you learn the lingo, work with your designer or contractor, and get inspired:

36 Landscape Design Terms You Need to Know

Top Landscape Mistakes to Avoid

Top 5 Landscape Designs in San Diego (visit these for inspiration and ideas)

How to Plan a Landscape Design

Landscape Design (professional landscape design)