Landscaping 101 – Line, Form, Color and Scale
Y&L Landscaping involves adding plants and changing the terrain of a property. It also includes the construction of structures like fences and decks.
A well-designed landscape improves the appearance of a home and often increases its value. It can also help save on utility bills by reducing water evaporation. Landscaping can be as straightforward or as complex as you want.
Lines are the basic building blocks of landscape design and determine how we respond to a particular garden or outdoor space. The use of lines creates a balance, rhythm and unity in the design. The lines can be real (actual) or perceived (implied). Real lines can appear as the boundary between a plant and the adjacent hardscape material, or the outlines of a structure or feature. Perceived lines may be created by the repetition of forms, elements or features or as a sequence of linear events.
In a landscape, lines may be straight, curved or diagonal. Straight lines, especially when combined with a symmetrical composition, communicate a forceful attitude and direct the eye to a desired destination without any distractions or detours. They are often used in formal designs and to define pathways or focal points.
Curved lines, on the other hand, mimic nature and have a relaxed, natural feel. They are often used to create a sense of movement and grace in the landscape. They also create a sense of discovery and wonder because the eye can’t always see what is around the next bend.
Vertical lines accentuate movement and draw the eye upward to expand the view. They are commonly used in tall plants, such as trees and vertical walls, or in structures, such as arches and pergolas. Horizontal lines guide the eye along the ground plane and can help tie spaces together or separate them. They are often created by walkways, hedges and short garden walls.
Long views are important in the landscape and heighten a sense of arrival when reaching a destination, such as a patio or water feature. They can also be used to add drama and create a sense of anticipation, such as in the case of a landscaped entranceway leading to a restaurant or other business.
Landscape sight lines are not limited to a horizontal plane. Adding dramatic vistas through the use of canopies, tall art or walls of differing heights are common in commercial landscapes. In residential landscapes, wide and curvy paths encourage lingering and the exploration of the surrounding garden or yard. They can be used to lead visitors to special attractions and unique features, such as a specimen tree, seating area or water feature, in addition to their function of guiding the eye.
Form is a more three-dimensional aspect of landscape design that focuses on the overall shape of plants and hardscape features. It contrasts with line, which looks at individual two-dimensional attributes.
Form can be used to create focal points and help draw the eye toward certain areas of the yard. For example, if you want to draw attention to a statue in your garden, you can reduce clutter around the statuary and use color or line to emphasize its shape.
The shapes of the plants and structures in your landscape influence the way you perceive a space, and form can be expressed through a wide range of plants and styles. For example, a formal garden may utilize more structured, trimmed forms of shrubs, while an informal landscape might incorporate natural, free-flowing plant shapes.
Form is also influenced by the size of plants, structures and hardscape features in your landscape, which is called scale. Using the proper scale in your landscape design ensures that everything is in proportion and will yield a balanced appearance once the project is complete.
While landscape designers often discuss the importance of line, form, color and scale when designing a garden, they are also skilled at working with texture. Texture refers to the roughness or smoothness of an individual plant leaf, hardscape surface, paving material or other element. While not as immediately recognizable as line, shape and color, it is a vital design component that would be missed if ignored.
Whether the effect is soft and subtle or bold and dramatic, a variety of textures can be used to add depth, dimension and character to a landscape. Plants provide a natural expression of texture through their size, shape and density of leaves. The way a plant branches and grows also influences its overall texture. A plant with tight branching can create a dense, thick texture while plants that have looser branching may look more open and airy.
In a hardscape environment, texture can be achieved with the use of different types and sizes of landscaping rocks, water features, crushed, washed and weathered gravels, concrete, wood decking materials and varying sizes and colors of pavers. Texture is created by the contrast of these elements, whether it is a mixture of smooth and rough or a balance of light and dark.
While it is important to work with a variety of textures in a garden, it is equally important to work with the right proportions. Too much of any particular texture can become visually distracting and overwhelming. Mixing contrasting plant textures can produce eye-catching combinations that highlight one another without overtaking the space. For example, try pairing finely cut foliage (such as hydrangeas and magnolias) with a coarse-leafed plant like Rhus typhina or heucheras.
A landscape’s texture can also be impacted by our perception of distance and scale. When viewing a garden, we tend to perceive fine textures as receding and coarse textures as coming toward us. To increase the sense of space in a garden, place the fine textures along the outer edges of the landscape with the coarse textures placed close to the viewer. This allows the eye to perceive the depth of the space and provides a sense of enclosure.
Color is one of the most rewarding – and challenging – elements to work with in landscape design. It can help to create visual interest, draw attention to specific areas or focal points, and set the overall mood and feel of a space. Color can also be used to establish a connection between different elements of the landscape. For example, a garden filled with flowers can help to connect the natural and man-made parts of the landscape by creating a pathway for the eye to follow.
In addition to establishing a sense of harmony in the landscape, proper use of color can help to define a particular style or period. For example, using warm colors like reds and oranges can give a more rustic or traditional feel to the landscape, while cool colors such as blues and greens can provide a more modern, clean-lined look.
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right color for a landscape, including its intensity, tint, shade and tone. Intensity describes the brightness of a color, and can be used to create a dramatic or eye-catching effect. For example, using a highly saturated red rose can add a striking contrast to the landscape, while a pale pink peony may be more subtle and blend into the background.
Tints and shades are a way to alter the intensity of a color without changing its hue. Adding gray to a color creates a shade, while adding black to a color creates a tint. The difference between a shade and a tint is important because it can greatly impact the effect of a color.
In landscape design, color is often the last consideration in a design, but it is also the most influential. Understanding the principles of color theory is essential to creating a beautiful and balanced outdoor space that reflects your personal taste and style.