No outdoor living space is completely successful until it is integrated with the surrounding landscape. Just as there are specific steps for designing interior spaces, there are also guidelines for exterior ones. How extensive your planning is will depend on the project you’re doing.
If you’re choosing a place within your landscape to place a permanent structure such as a gazebo for example, then this could be one of the most important landscape design decisions you make. If however, you already have a structure in place and you simply want to enhance it – say by putting a nice raised flower bed around the outside – then the plans may not have to be as detailed or rigid, but planning the project before you start usually helps tremendously regardless of how large or small your design project is.
Here are some things you’ll want to consider in your design planning…
Evaluate the site. The landscape design should provide a framework for your outdoor living space. The views, lines, property configuration, and traffic patterns need to work together. Spend some time getting acquainted with your site and noting any special features. What are the site’s assets? Are there beautiful views? Are there natural features, such as trees or streams? Consider the size and shape of your lot, the style of the house itself, as well as your own lifestyle needs and preferences.
Balance the elements. This is the process of arranging various site elements so that they are resolved and balanced. A visually heavy or large object can be balanced by a visually lighter or smaller object on the site if the smaller object is darker in color, is unusually or irregularly shaped, has a contrasting texture, or is more elaborately detailed. All of these strategies will help to draw attention to the smaller object and thereby visually balance it with the larger object.
For example, let’s say you have a large clump of pine trees on one side of your yard. To visually balance the trees you might plant smaller, more colorful ornamental trees on the other side of the yard, or you might use a man-made object such as an arbor.
Create a cohesive design. Harmony can be achieved by selecting and using elements that share a common trait or characteristic. By using elements that are similar in size, shape, color, material, texture, or detail, you can create a cohesive feeling and relation among the various elements on the site. An example this might be using a shape, such as a square. Imagine having a square concrete patio scored in a square or diamond pattern with a square table covered in a checkered tablecloth. The results can be extremely pleasing and harmonious.
Add interest. While both balance and harmony are used to achieve unity, too much unity can be boring. That’s where variety and contrast come in handy. By varying the size, shape, color, material, texture, and detail of your design elements, you can introduce a note of interest or a focal point into the total composition.
For instance, placing a round wooden planter onto a square-patterned patio will provide a pleasing contrast of both shape and material. The contrasting object – the round wooden planter – will draw attention to itself and provide visual relief and interest to the total setting.
Establish visual rhythm. In design terms, rhythm — or how elements are spaced relative to similar elements — can create another type of unity in a composition. Rhythm helps to establish a visually satisfying progression to a site design.
For example, you can create a regular rhythm on a walkway if you place a band of decorative brick at 4-foot intervals. Vary such things as the interval, color, size, shape, texture, or material of the elements.
Emphasize an element. This point assumes that within your design area, some of the elements have more significance than the rest and that these special elements should be emphasized. This is probably starting to sound familiar to you by now, but a special element is given its due emphasis by making it larger; by giving it a different shape such as round versus square; by using a singular color, texture, or material; by shifting or rotating its orientation; by centering it within a circle or at the end of walkway; or by lighting it at night. However, if you emphasize too much, you may end up with a visually confusing design.
Let simplicity be your guide. Simplicity is one of the hardest things to achieve in a design because there is a tendency to use all available tools and elements. The most elegant site designs are those that begin and end with simplicity as their guiding design principle. The Zen rock gardens of Japan are a good example.
©2008, Kathy Burns-Millyard