Garden Design – Composition

Composition in garden design is the placement of landscape elements, the spaces they create and the transitions between them. Garden composition or order should strive for unity which is achieved when all parts of the design have a harmonious relationship to each other.

Garden designs which rely on few elements in terms of plant species, form, color and texture, often produce the most successful compositions. One basic design principle is to group plants into massings that contain three, five, or seven shrubs rather than placing individual plants here and there. As individual plants grow together they become visually read as clusters of color or textures and not single specimens.

RhododendronAn emphasis on one element in the composition can create a focal point in the garden. Size, such as a large shade tree, can achieve this. Contrast and the juxtaposition of colors, forms or textures can also draw attention to a feature in the landscape. For example, a rhododendron, with its large leaves becomes a focal point if it is planted among shrubs with fine foliage such as the boxwood or privet.

Getting the Rhythm

Repetition is a planting design principle which can create a feeling of rhythm when moving the landscape. This can be achieved by planting the same or similar plants throughout the garden. Repeating patterns in the design can also help create unity in the composition.

A garden’s overall theme may be informal, natural or formal. The style may give a linear, asymmetrical or symmetrical theme. By following a specific order, theme, or style that’s carried throughout the landscape, a feeling of harmony will be created in the garden.

Winter ColorIn the garden, composition includes planning for season changes in the landscape. Try to incorporate, in your design, plants which have year-round appeal. Several small trees and shrubs will flower in the spring, offer lush foliage through the summer, provide color in the fall with its foliage and form berries which can last through the winter.

Juxtaposition creates visual interest in the garden and is most often achieved with plant form, texture or color. For example, a tall, upright shrub planted within a shrub border of spreading and round shrubs will stand out. Columnar and pyramidal-shaped plants, such as tall-hedge or Hicks yew, have visual characteristics that suggest vertical edges in an outdoor space. They create a major contrast with the more common rounded or spreading plants.

Next: Color in Garden Design

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