Basic Elements of Landscape Design

September 17, 2014

Landscape design is more than just putting pretty flowers next to other pretty flowers. A good designer (not just a landscape designer, but any kind of design expert) will tell you that design is broken down into certain elements. These elements describe fundamental ideas about the principles of good design.


Color is a major element in design. You use color inside your house to create a sense of space (which we’ll cover later) or intimacy, and the same concept applies to landscaping. Color can be used to change the way people see a space. Use cool colors like light blues and greens to visually lengthen perceived distances. Reds, yellows, and oranges do the opposite. Layer your flowerbeds in nice combinations to create a visual path that looks both interesting and lively.


Form is the shape of any three-dimensional object. (If you want to get really technical, shape refers to two-dimensional objects, while form refers to three-dimensional ones, but for our purposes they mean the same thing.) It can also be defined by light and dark, by the presence of shadows on surfaces or faces of an object. As it applies to landscaping, form is the shape of a plant. These can come in many shapes, like upright, columnar, arching, broad, spreading, and weeping.


A line is a straight distance between two points. In landscaping terminology, line is the way a viewer’s eye follows a certain path. You can control that path by the arrangement of plants and hardscape features. Eye movement is unconsciously influenced by the way plants are grouped together, both horizontally and vertically.


Space is the area between two objects. In landscaping, space can offer a visual complement to areas of densely packed greenery.


In landscape design terminology, plant “texture” is the way a plant looks (regarding size and shape, not feel) compared to surrounding plants. Texture can be perceived as coarse, medium, or fine. When coarse foliage is placed next to fine foliage, it creates a contrast, which catches the eye nicely. In everyday use, “texture” refers to what people feel when they touch a plant, whether it feels rough or smooth. But in landscape parlance, the word means how a plant part looks, not feels.

See—landscape design is more than just haphazardly sticking together things that look nice. Sure, there might be a little bit of design principles being followed by instinct, but your landscaping will look much better if you have a conscious adherence to the design principles.