What are the Basics of Garden Design?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2018
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Understanding the basics of garden design can be fairly simple and can provide someone with a strong foundation on which to build his or her garden. Some of the most basic concerns in designing a garden are the use of color and establishing strong bones to build a garden around. These two aspects of garden design allow a garden to incorporate three important elements of design: balance, harmony, and flow. Once these are understood and used in designing a garden, it can be easier for a person to focus on specific choices that will serve to reinforce these concepts.

While there are a number of different aspects of garden design to consider, three important, fundamental elements are balance, harmony, and flow. Balance is the use of color, size, texture and other visual elements in a way that leaves the garden feeling complete and not unevenly distributed. It involves considering the weight of each plant on the eye, and making sure the entirety of the garden is equally weighed. One great way to start considering balance in garden design is with the bones of a garden.


The bones refer to the element of garden design concerned with the boundaries or foundation of a garden. Bones in a garden serve to limit the garden to a certain shape. These bones can be fairly common sense, such as a sidewalk or similar pathway that establishes one side of a garden area, or may need to be planned out. Using dwarf evergreens such as conifers to outline the border of a garden area has become increasingly popular as a way to establish the bones of a garden.

How color is used in garden design can often have a tremendous impact on the harmony of a garden. Using adjacent colors on a color wheel, called analogous colors, can create a unified visual field pleasing to the eye and often relaxing to view. Harmony in garden design is about how well the various plants within a garden go together and create a complete piece of work, rather than a loose collection of disparate plants. The use of analogous colors often helps create this type of harmony, as each color naturally moves the eye throughout the garden and makes it feel like a single visual experience.

Complimentary colors, those colors opposite each other on a color wheel, are often useful to create contrast and focal points. A focal point in a garden is typically quite important, as it provides the eye of a viewer with a starting point to look at first, the eye can then move away from this point and enjoy the rest of the garden, rather than simply meander visually through the garden without purpose. This creates a natural flow throughout the garden as the eye moves in a specific way, starting at one point and naturally traveling through the garden, rather than wandering aimlessly.



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