7 Principles of Great Garden Design

January 29, 2024

Great garden design, starts with 7 simple ideas.

Before we get into the seven design principles, we have to define landscape design. Our definition is the process of developing practical and pleasing outdoor living spaces. Think of it as interior design for your outdoor living. Good design achieves the outcome of wanting to relax and linger longer in the garden.

There are seven basic principles to achieve these objectives. They include unity, scale, balance, simplicity, variety, emphasis and sequence, as they apply to line, form, texture and color.

1. Unity

Unity is the organizing principle that attracts and holds your attention. It is built upon the main garden concept, the one objective, or story line. It also organizes groups, with emphasis on the feeling a garden is trying to achieve.


Line connects and defines your outdoor spaces, creating outdoor rooms. Line is a powerful design element to achieve cohesiveness and pull you through the landscape. Your eyes use lines, like paths, to navigate areas and create movement to a destination. We use straight lines, and sweeping curved lines, to effectively delineate Hardscaped and Softscaped areas.   

2. Scale

Absolute scale is the comparative value of landscape elements to a fixed structure, such as a house. Relative scale is achieved from the size of the viewer and the surrounding landscape elements. It is the emotional connections the viewer has when immersed in the landscape. Relative scale can create a feeling of action, or relaxation.

3. Balance

Balance is achieved from the equilibrium of the right and left side. For more formal spaces, there is symmetry between both sides. Formality gives viewers a feeling of stateliness, stability and dignity. For a more informal garden, elements can be asymmetrical to achieve free-flowing feelings of curiosity, movement and being alive.

4./5. Simplicity and Variety

Simplicity and variety work together to balance each other. Simplicity has a lesser degree of repetition. Rather than constant change, it creates unity. Variety, prevents monotony and is achieved through contrast in form, color and texture. In a border perennial garden, simplicity can be achieved form sweeping groups of plants. Variety adds interest by introducing new plants between groups.

6. Emphasis

Emphasis is achieved by the dominance or subordination of elements, depending on the vantage point of the viewer. Humans want to see dominance and subordination in relation to each other. If not, they will want to leave the landscape. Too many dominant or subordinated elements can distract from a focal point. Cascading heights of low perennials, medium-sized shrubs and larger trees can achieve the right effect.

7. Sequence

Sequence is the change in flow of elements. Sequences can be used in form, color or texture, creating movement and life in the landscape.


Form is inherent in the plants and materials used in the landscape, including the dimensional mass of various plant shapes. A good landscape designer will understand the variety of plant shapes, and their inherent growth habit, including columnar, oval, weeping, vase, rounded and pyramidal.


Texture is defined as the relationship of the stem and leaf size of a plant and creates the form. Texture can be fine or course, heavy or light, thin or dense and light or shade. Up close, texture comes from the size and shape relations, while at a distance, texture is perceived from mass of the the play of light and shade. Texture becomes apparent in the winter garden when color is absent. It is also important when hard and soft elements meet each other in the garden. Texture becomes finer with distance, so we tend to use coarser textures closer to the viewer.


Colorful plants are a great way to add life to your garden. There is so much to talk about, so we'll save this subject for another blog. Here is one tip. Using green evergreen shrubs, as a backdrop against colorful plants, can make them more powerful.

Contact us today for a free garden design consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Q: What is the definition of landscape design?

A: Landscape design is defined as the process of developing practical and pleasing outdoor living spaces, akin to interior design for outdoor areas.

Q: How does the concept of unity contribute to garden design?

A: Unity in garden design serves as the organizing principle that attracts and holds attention, often built upon a central concept or theme.

Q: What role does line play in outdoor spaces?

A: Line in outdoor spaces defines and connects different areas, creating a sense of cohesion and guiding movement throughout the landscape.

Q: Explain the difference between absolute scale and relative scale in garden design.

A: Absolute scale refers to the comparative size of landscape elements in relation to fixed structures like houses, while relative scale considers the emotional connections viewers have with the surrounding elements.

Q: How does balance manifest in formal versus informal garden spaces?

A: Balance in formal gardens is achieved through symmetry, evoking feelings of stateliness and stability, while in informal gardens, asymmetry creates a sense of curiosity and movement.

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