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Basic Principles Of Landscaping

January 12th, 2023 | 6 min read

By Andrew Whyte

Basic Principles Of Landscaping

What comes to your mind when you think about a landscaped garden? Do you picture lush green grass, flowers and trees? Or does a modern minimalist garden spring into your head? Do you imagine something formal and structured or something natural, wild and organic?

Whatever your concept of a landscaped garden is there are some fundamental principles that apply to them all. In the past 30 years or so, we've designed and created every possible type of garden you can imagine.

So we wanted to share with you some of the basics of landscaping and landscape design so that you can better understand them and how they might apply to any garden you might be planning.

We apply these whenever we design and create a garden for our clients. Maybe one day we might be able to apply them to your new garden.

Whether or not you choose to work with us, we hope that by the time you get to the end of this article you have a better understanding of landscape design so that you more clearly recognise what your landscaper is trying to do for you.

What is Landscaping?

Designing and landscaping gardens is almost as old as housing itself. From the very first days humans began to live in simple huts we have always wanted to improve what surrounds our home on both a functional or practical level and an aesthetic level. As our homes got bigger and more sophisticated, so did our gardens. You only have to look at legends like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to realise how old designing beautiful and functional gardens as an art-form is. And how much people love and appreciate a gorgeous garden.

So in essence landscaping is an age-old method of designing, creating and curating gardens that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional. It employs many of the principles of design aesthetics as well as the functional aspects of planning, construction, etc linked to the eventual use or purpose of the garden.

“Gardens are the result of a collaboration between art and nature.” – Penelope Hobhouse

There are many nuances to the art of landscaping. From choosing the design that best works for your space to picking the right plants to grow, there are many steps involved. Here we have broken up the process of landscaping into some easy to grasp steps, so you can better understand the basic principles of landscaping and landscape design.


Balance is one of the key aspects to landscape design. A good landscape designer will, as they design a garden, ask themselves many of the following questions.

Do all the elements of the garden look well placed? Does it look pleasing to the eye? Is there anything that jars or looks like it doesn't belong? Balance is the answer to all these questions. In simple terms, balance is a state of equilibrium. We experience the most peace in a garden with a sense of balance.

The subject of balance in design can be divided into two fundamental approaches - Symmetrical and Asymmetrical.

Symmetrical balance occurs when both sides of anything are a mirror image of each other. In a garden this means the left side of the garden and the right side look basically the same. Gardens with a symmetrical landscape can feel a little stiff and formal. These types of gardens need to be highly maintained to keep their symmetry in place. 

With Asymmetric balance, the left and right sides will differ either slightly or substantially, but there will still be a sense of balance to them. Gardens with an asymmetrical balance tend to feel more free-flowing and relaxing. These sorts of gardens are known to have an informal balance.

When designing a garden, we may also consider a third type of balance, which is called proximal. (Proximity simply means 'close'.) This is determined by a balance of the elements in your proximal (near vision) compared to your distal (far vision). Proximal balance is a type of asymmetric balance.

Axis and Focal Point 

An axis is an invisible line along which a garden may be designed.  In a symmetrical garden, the axis tends to be an imagined line running down the centre of the garden. And at the end of that axis, the garden will tend to have a focal point - something for your eye to focus on.

A good garden design usually has a good focal point, it’s as simple as that. The focal point is what attracts your eye. It could be anything from a bird bath to a feature tree to a fountain - depending solely on the design and the layout of the space. Ideally, your landscape designer should not overdo the use of focal points. If you have too many things in your garden all screaming "look at me, look at me" then you can't really focus on anything and your attention will be dispersed.

A great garden design will strike the right balance. It will include an interesting piece/s to create your focal point/s and it will be created with a sense of fun and beauty.


Great garden designs tend not to be full of complex and confusing themes or items. They do tend to be simple.

Unless a client really wants something complex we will tend to keep our designs simple, clutter-free and non-fussy. We try not to overcomplicate our gardens by adding too many elements, as generally it will do more harm than good.

Overly messy gardens can leave people feeling uneasy and uncomfortable instead of calm and relaxed (which is what a good garden should do). We recommend whoever designs your garden to avoid using too many colours, textures and shapes. We also advise not including too many dramatic angles and curves in our garden design. Unless of course that's what you really want.

Rhythm and line

Like music, reading, speech and other things, a garden can have a 'rhythm' to it. This can be achieved by using the same component repeated at regular intervals. Rhythm is created by placing plants, trees, rocks or structures (fountains, stone benches, lamp posts etc) repeatedly throughout a garden to create repitition.

Lines basically create the form or shape of a landscape. When different materials come together, a line is formed. Think of the line created where the lawn meets a garden bed, where the deck meets the pool or where a path meets a fence. Lines can dominate a garden if they used in a very dramatic fashion.

Both rhythm and line give a sense of movement to a landscape. They can draw you into a garden and give you a calm, soulful feeling.

Contrast and Composition

Contrast occurs when significantly different things are brought close together. The soft, green organic nature of a lawn contrasts with the hard, grey flat surface of a path.

Composition in landscaping is how various elements are brought together in a design, even if they are contrasting by nature.

While you can use contrast to help highlight certain aspects of a landscape, the way everything is composed together can help give it a unified look. Contrasting elements can catch the eye of an observer when placed adjacent to each other. Perfect juxtaposition is achieved when complementary elements (colours or structures that go well together) are placed side by side.

Finding and achieving a perfect balance between contrasting colours, textures or shapes can do wonders for a garden's design.

Scale and Proportion

Scale and proportion in landscape design are particularly relevant when selecting plants and trees. Scale refers to the relative size of an element compared to the overall size of the garden itself. Whereas proportion refers to the relative relationship between all the different features of a landscape. It can include horizontal, vertical and spacial relationships.

A good landscape designer would not include something way too small or way too large to go into a garden. They would most likely work from tallest to shortest when choosing and planting trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants. They would also keep in mind the size, width and maximum height that any plant or tree would be likely to grow to, as well as the growth rate of the plant itself.

They would also take into consideration the height of the viewer as well. The perspective of an adult is going to be very different from that of a child. The same goes for short people and tall people.


Unity in landscape design is achieved when all the principles listed above come together in perfect harmony. Unity of design occurs when all the elements of a landscape fit together into a cohesive whole, like a jigsaw puzzle. Colours, patterns, textures, shapes and sizes all combine to give a sense of oneness, in a great big unified space.

Unity itself can be achieved by repeating colours and patterns. Or by creating lines or using materials that have repeating lines, shapes or textures. However, overuse of the one thing can be boring. Finding the right balance and using contrasts in a smart way helps create a beautiful landscape.

Ultimately, when it comes to design, we aim to get a very clear understanding of what you, our client, needs and wants in your garden. Our challenge is to see how much of that can be aesthetically accommodated in the space you have for us to work in. We try to always use the above principles to create a garden for you that is equal parts stunning and soulful.

If you would like to know more about which of the 3 different approaches to designing a garden might be right for you, please read this article - Which of the 3 garden design approaches will suit you best?

If you'd like to have a chat with us about any aspect of landscape design and landscaping, please feel free to call or email us. Use the contact page Contact us

Andrew Whyte

Founder of Whyte Gardens