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The Basics of Garden Design: Forming the Roots of Inspiration

Garden design on a personal level is often an evolving process, rooted in the inspiration one gains from experiencing the space or being within it. While this occurs over time, there are some fundamental basics of design that can be applied to help form the perfect creative environment.

Incorporating five core elements into the initial design – colour, line, texture, form and scale – can create a foundation where inspiration can begin to take root. Let’s look at each of these primary elements in more detail to see how they can be used within a domestic garden project to bring the perfect balance.

Line – drawing a path

An inspiring garden will provide a journey for the eye and drive the physical movement through the space. This is where decisions need to be made about the intention, purpose and atmosphere of the desired outcome.

One of the most important of all the basic garden design elements is the line. Lines are already a fundamental part of the garden design, present in almost all domestic outside spaces and most commonly dictating the physical boundaries:

  • Boundary fencing or walls
  • The horizon and neighbouring landscape features
  • A line at the edge of a lawn
  • Garden beds and border lines
  • Existing trees or shrubs
  • Pathways
  • Garden buildings
  • And many more.

Formality is also an important aspect of the thought process. For instance, straight lines and symmetry lean more towards a formal design, while using curved lines creates a softer, more informal approach.

According to the basic principles, this can be further expanded:

  • Curving lines can provide additional interest, effectively revealing a different perspective of the design at intervals during the journey.
  • Horizontal lines can invoke a soothing, peaceful atmosphere, slowing down the journey. Curved horizontal lines are thought to create a sense of stability.
  • Vertical lines in garden design are often used to inject strength, typically providing structure to the journey through the space. They lead the eye upwards naturally.
  • Strong lines will draw the eye, where features can be highlighted, and people can be guided.

Whether using existing lines or planning a new journey through the garden, take note of the feeling each part of the space invokes. Also consider that every line that is added (or removed) will have a different effect on the space as a whole.

Form – shaping the journey

Form is a physical presence, made up of both planting and features or hardscape elements. The term refers to the shapes that these features create and how they will affect:

  • Shadow and light
  • Balance
  • Ambience

Using basic form principles, the design can work to divide or zone the space, for example, using planting to enclose a quiet area or adding a hardscape element to create some architectural interest.

Some hardscape elements require careful consideration. Retaining walls, for instance, cannot always be removed easily and may require professional advice or even local authority permission in some cases. Professional garden designers assess all hardscape elements during the earliest stages of the consultation process. While some features can dictate line, form provides the means to shape the way the space is experienced.

Straight lines guiding the flow of movement softened by the planting
Form and light punctuating the space to give an ambient warmth

Scale – create balance and stability

Scale and proportion are elements that help to create balance and stability in the design. This will be important when considering the introduction of new features in relation to the existing surroundings. Whether planting or building a feature, consider both short and long term effects. For example, when choosing a specimen plant or tree for a seating area, ensure that the scale will be correct at mature height.

At the beginning of the design process, consider gaining a comprehensive perspective of the garden from all aspects for inspiration and to help with decision making:

  • An elevated view from an upstairs window
  • From the ground, following the intended journey
  • From specific, dedicated points, such as seating areas
  • From inside the property at desired viewpoints

Texture – influence the experience

Texture is where the atmosphere of the entire space can be guided and influenced according to the desired experience. The introduction of texture can be applied to both natural and hardscape elements, providing a sensory approach with almost limitless possibilities.

Introducing texture can appeal to all the human senses. The sound of the crunch of a gravelled path underfoot, the touch of the rough bark of a tree or the smell released from a fragrant plant as someone brushes past. All these elements contribute to the desired experience.

Texture, like colour, can be introduced over time as the design evolves through inspiration. It helps to incorporate basic principles during the planning stages, however. This could simply include identifying the most interesting existing textures to be retained and using them to influence the line, form and scale design elements.

Juxtaposing hard and soft textures
Achieving texturality through choice of materials

Colour – set the scene

Colour is a key element in garden design, particularly for a year-round approach. Reflecting the seasons, many domestic garden designs use planting to introduce colour. Flowers, trees and shrubs are typically selected in personal preference colours, and this is simplified with the wide variety of available options.

From a design perspective, colour is used to draw the eye and capture the attention. Certain colours can be used to invoke a feeling or create atmosphere and truly reflect the personality of the gardener. Colour can also be introduced artificially and used in conjunction with the line and form elements to draw the eye – painting a fence, adding a sculpture or other coloured structure.

The evolving garden

The basics of garden design can help to lay the foundations of a space that can grow and evolve with its current custodian. With so many possibilities, this is often the best way to start for domestic garden planning. Creating atmosphere, invoking the desired feelings and being present and connected with the space is where inspiration is often rooted.

We are always excited to hear about the inspiration behind garden design ideas and enjoy the evolution of those plans over time. If we can help you to turn your ideas into an inspiring, evolving space, contact us and let’s talk.

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