We are all guilty of rushing out to our local nursery and making those impulse purchases. We then return home with our little treasures and then have the task of finding room for these new plants. Panic sets in, there is no room for additions,  suddenly other  plants in your garden are subject to review. Do I really like this??? No let’s dig it out, and perhaps give it away.  Perhaps I should make this bed larger? Or maybe build another bed ?

We have all gone through this at one time or another, if you haven’t it will happen to you one day.

Several years past, and several more incidents occur. Before you know it you have a botanical garden on your hands. Don’t get me wrong I love botanical gardens, they are a wonderful collection of plants for educating and  inspiring people. In a residential setting they can cause some issues from a design perspective, unity being one of these.

Unity is perhaps the most overlooked element in most peoples landscapes. It’s certainly one of the easiest to correct if you look ahead and plan before you start purchasing plant material. All gardeners and landscape designers look to nature for their inspiration. It may be the way boulders are placed in a stream or the how different foliage or colours work together. Take a closer look and see how many  different varieties of plants there are in any given view.  This repetition creates unity and in turn is calming and gentle on the eyes. To bring this calming sense into your landscape consider repeating some of the plant material. This is easy to do when starting your landscape. Much more of challenge once it’s established.

When designing any landscape we will draft up a list of trees and shrubs that we feel will fit into a given project. Once the homeowner has approved this list we look at their availability. This is the frustrating part. Your landscape must be based on what’s available.

Let’s look at an example.  In this landscape there are five medium size trees designed into this area, instead of picking five different trees perhaps 3 of one variety and two other individuals would have a  better effect. You could take it one step further and use just one variety for all five trees.  The next step is looking at the shrub and perennial material, the same process applies repeat some elements and certainly have some individual specimens to break up the repetition. 

So that was one way of dealing with the unity, another important consideration is the hardscape ( your walkways, patios, walls ) and how it relates to the house, and setting.

We are starting to see more and more homes using stone on their exterior. This is a great product and it gives people an opportunity to repeat this in their landscape. Whether it’s a retaining wall or a walkway,  stone is always top on our list of important landscape features. We will often use the same stone to cap a wall that has been used on a patio or walkway. This  effect goes almost unnoticed but does bring some unity to the area and ties it all in. 

We can sum up unity with a quote from a very famous landscape architect, Dame Sylvia Crowe who said “Perhaps the greatest of these and the one most lacking in the average garden today is a sense of unity. It is a quality found in all the great landscapes, based on the rhythm of the natural land-form, the domination of one type of vegetation, and the fact that human use and buildings have kept in sympathy with their surroundings. When we say that landscape has been spoiled we mean that it has lost this unity.”

Another element that is often forgotten  is scale and proportion. It’s important to look at your outdoor living space and divide up spaces in proportion to the whole. Having a sound design in place prior to any construction will help avoid any costly changes later in the project. An overhead layout of your garden let’s you see all aspects of the scale and proportion from a birds eye view. If it works on paper is will work on the site.Typically you would not want 90% garden and 10% lawn, this would not give you enough quiet, or usable living space. Lawn is a wonderful ground cover. We all love to walk bare foot or  play on it, but it is also a nice contrast to any garden. This is what we mean by quiet space, it’s simply green. In many cases you can look at a given area and it will “feel” right. You may not know why, but this doesn’t matter the fact is the proportions probably spot on. There are so many different variables at work in your landscape it can get overwhelming if you aren’t careful. 

Planting trees is another example were scale and proportion are at work. If you are in a small city lot it would be foolish to plant a tree that gets 100’ high and 40’ wide.   Selecting a tree which ultimately gets 20-30 feet high would be much more appropriate and bring you more pleasure in the long term. So putting some research into your plants before you purchase, will make for a better landscape in the long run.   If this feels like to much work look for some advice from a professional.

One trick we use when designing any garden is to look first at the layout, bed shapes, walkways, patios or any other living space. See how they relate to the house and any significant features the site holds. Perhaps you have a water view, or better yet live on  water front, these features need to be considered.  The flow of foot traffic is also important to consider. People like the most direct route without being too linear. Get all these important elements in place first then you can start to think about specific plants. Perhaps it’s the male brain, ( I’m often told I can only think of one thing at a time)  but putting the cart before the horse can led to frustration.

Once you have a good feel of the layout you can look at the finer details. The use of texture is one of these. Texture can be see in the entire landscape, most of us know that plants are a great use of texture but many other elements play an important role. The hardscape which is your walkways, patios, walls all play into this. As you can image if we just look at a few walkway materials as an example these have a huge impact on texture. Gravel for instance has entirely different texture to flagstone. Tumbled concrete pavers has an entirely different texture to exposed aggregate even though they are made from a concrete base. These again are fine details that do make a big difference, in the big picture.

A Japanese garden is a classic example of the use of texture. Stone, gravel, sand, water, mounded plants, wood all play critical roles in the landscape. These simple natural products interact with each other and its this interaction which creates the overall effect. That is why so many of us are attracted to aspects of the Japanese gardens. Peace and tranquility are often associated with them. Simple use of texture and subtle use of colour, which brings us to the next element of design the use of colour.

The use of colour touches many different areas of any landscape, not just the traditional thoughts of flower colour.  Contrast in foliage colour is an important use of colour. We believe that if a plant can’t provide interest with it’s foliage then we should consider an alternative. Grey, silver, bronze, yellow, white and various shades of green are just some of your choices. We do however need to use these with care, too much of a good thing will definitely spoil the effect. 

Colour extends to the sky, surrounding landscape (perhaps trees surround the property) water, the hardscape materials, any garden structures or features. Just about anything the eye can see when in the landscape.  Obviously you can’t control all of these but you can base your colour choices on what is present. 

Take a look at your landscape and try to implement some of these landscape design elements. You will find that the results will bring you more pleasure, and that is it’s primary function, to bring the observer pleasure.
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