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Landscape Design Basics: Principles Do-It-Yourselfers Need To Know

Landscape Design Basics: Principles Do-It-Yourselfers Need To Know

When it comes to landscape design, there are many things you should know before your next DIY adventure – and Lindley's is here to help! In this blog, we cover the design building blocks, design and arrangement of plant material principles, site conditions, and formulating and executing a landscape plan. Check out these basics you need to know before tackling your next landscape design project.


Design Building Blocks


  • Line is a design tool well suited to directing the eye (visual) and movement (physical).
  • Straight lines suggest directness, efficiency, and speed
  • Curved lines, by contrast, imply a slow, restful, meandering movement.
  • Lines in the landscape: edges, borders, rows of plants, or a combination of these.


  • Form is the mass or shape occupied by an object or group of objects.
  • Example of forms, columnar, oval, vase, weeping, pyramidal, & round


  • Texture is what gives an object or surface its tactile quality, from coarse to smooth.
  • Use texture to change the perceived size of a space.
  • Color can affect the perception of texture.
  • Use one texture throughout the layers to achieve unity


  • Color attracts the eye and draws the attention of the viewer.
  • Warm colors = Red, yellow, orange tend to advance toward the viewer.
  • Cool colors = greens, violets, and blues tend to recede.
  • Color can be the most temporary characteristic of plant material, yet it is the one that carries the most visual weight.


Design and Arrangement of Plant Material Principles


  • Describes the relative shape of a space.
  • Plant material, garden structures, and ornaments should be considered relative to human scale.
  • Other important scales include the size of house, yard, and the area to be planted.


  • Scale determines how one perceives an object or a space
  • Selecting plants based on mature size to fit the space
  • Hardscape also give scale to a garden


  • Visual weight, quantity, masses, and color are distributed relatively equally on both sides of the view axis, a composition is considered balanced.
  • Formal balance repeats the same left and right, giving stability, stateliness, and dignity.
  • Informal balance differs from left to right giving curiosity, movement, and feels alive. The total mass of plants needs to balance left and right.


  • Repetition is the rhythm in landscape composition.
  • Repeating line, form, color, and texture creates rhythm in the landscape.
  • Too much can be monotones and too little can cause confusion.


  • Expresses differences in visual or spatial experience. Dark versus light, confined versus spacious, rugged versus manicured.
  • Contrast within a plant massing is used to highlight individual plants.


  • An element that has authority in the design scheme.
  • Dominance can be a focal point or a strong place of interest like a viewpoint or a place that has a special feeling.


Site Conditions


  • Plants simultaneously create and respond to climate conditions.
  • Vegetation contributes to the balance of soil moisture, atmospheric humidity, and soil fertility and texture, and pH.
  • Beware of microclimates

Sound Attenuation

  • Plants, especially dense evergreen masses, are somewhat effective in the masking of undesirable noise, especially in the high frequencies.
  • Minimum of 25 feet which should include dense foliage for a buffer.

Erosion Control

  • Plant roots are probably the best solution to erosion control since they have a binding effect on soil.
  • A lawn is good as long as it is not too steep.
  • Terrace


Formulating and Executing a Landscape Plan

  • Base mapping, preliminary and intermediate design concepts, and review and revision for the preparation of final plans.
  • Work with layers of plants like tree canopy, shrubs, sub-shrubs, and groundcovers.
  • Designers attempt to emulate nature.


"If you think good design is expensive, look at the cost of bad design."

– Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO Jagaur


  • Landscape Design: Arranging plants in the landscape by
    Gail Hansen. UF Publication #ENH1188
  • Basic Principles of Landscape Design by Gail Hansen. UF
    Publication #CIR536
  • Water Wise Landscaping: Principles of Landscape Design,
    Colorado Master Garden Program - CMG GardenNotes

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