The Elements of Landscape Design

The elements (visual qualities) and principles of design—proportion, order, repetition and unity—are used to organize landscape plants and hardscapes for a harmonious composition. People feel physically and psychologically at ease in organized and balanced landscapes.

Study your local landscapes to discover your personal style. Determine the dominant lines, and observe how they flow through the landscape.


Some homeowners take on the task of designing and installing their own landscapes. This can save money up front but comes with a large risk of improper plant selection and installation, which ultimately can cost more than hiring a professional.

Landscape plants offer qualities that can help direct visitors around a garden, moderate the environment, hide or highlight objects, and create enclosure. They can also be used to express a design theme, such as color, form, texture or line.

Plants provide structure in the garden as walls do in buildings and branches do in a tree canopy overhead (figure 2),  garden maintenance Auckland can be massed and layered to achieve visual unity or emphasized as focal points.

Landscape plants have characteristic general forms determined by genetics and the environment. They may be prostrate or upright, round or linear in shape and can be shaped by pruning to fit the desired design. Landscape design themes can be established by using standard symbols to depict them on a plan; for example, broadleaf shrubs are represented as circles with rounded lines while pines have straight ones.


Pruning is a big deal in the garden and plays a critical role in the health of plants. It helps to remove dead and diseased plant material, train plants to grow properly, improve the appearance of trees and shrubs, and can even restrict growth in some cases.

Overgrown tree and shrubs detract from the landscape, so they need to be pruned regularly. Pruning can be as simple as giving a bush or tree a haircut, or more complex like thinning the dense outer growth of pines and spruces to let in sunlight. Pruned plants look better and are more visually appealing than those left to their own devices.

Some landscaping software will also list all the items you will need to complete your project, which is a great time-saver for those who are doing their landscape work on their own. These programs can help you stay on track with your landscaping goals and ensure that everything will fit together in the end.


A landscape design can have a variety of goals. Whether it’s to draw attention to a statue, create a visual pathway, or simply organize the plantings around your home and garden, the elements of unity, simplicity, balance, and sequence can guide the way.

While the art of landscape design is rooted in horticultural principles, it’s also an artistic pursuit. Some decisions will not be based on hard facts but on current consensus, intuition, or aesthetic preference. For instance, there’s no scientific evidence that a curved foundation planting looks better than a straight one, but contemporaries generally agree that the curved design softens the linearity of a house wall.

Another factor to consider is the landscape’s environmental and maintenance requirements. Careful planning can reduce water consumption, minimize fertilizer and pesticide use, and reduce pruning efforts. For example, a mountain landscape requires plants that are adapted to high altitudes, and a coastal landscape demands salt- and drought-tolerant species.

Insect Control

Landscape design involves a lot more than just picking out plants that happen to look good and sticking them in the ground. True landscape design requires careful thinking and learning how trees, shrubs, and construction materials can be used to develop a long-range plan for your property that adds beauty, function, and value.

A well-designed landscape can also provide a number of functional benefits like moderating the climate around the house, reducing glare and wind, absorbing rainwater and improving soil quality. Landscapes can even improve the environment by providing habitat for wildlife and filtering the air of dust, dirt, and pollutants.

A common theme found in landscapes is color. Using a specific color or group of colors can unify the overall design and create balance. Form, or shape, is another important concept that ties the various elements together and adds visual interest to the garden. Form can range from the formal symmetrical balance of a lily pond to the naturalistic curves of a weeping willow.

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