Design Tip: Repeat Distinctive Shapes
In early June I trekked to Toronto to spend four days on a bus with a bunch of camera-wielding, garden-crazed plant nerds. We visited well over 30 gardens—private, public, and botanical—each with its own distinct style and feel. (And the gardens were interesting, too!) By the time I returned home I was on garden overload, but mind you, I have fully recovered and am sifting through the loads of pictures that I took.
Looking back I don’t really remember much about the plants except for the peonies in the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens peony garden because how could you possibly forget about a whole garden of nothing but row after row of peonies in bloom? (And then there were the ants and smoking bride in that garden as well…) What stands out in my mind are the design elements, art pieces, architecture, and layout of the gardens. (see Garden Bloggers Fling 2015: Highlights
One particularly interesting garden was a private garden that had the most spectacular design element repeated throughout. Either the designer was simply brilliant or the homeowner had a real gift for design. I could not even begin to tell you anything about a single plant in this garden because I was so captivated by the design.
There are five basic design principles. Unity is probably the most important design principle as all the others support it. Unity is the glue that holds all of the pieces in place. It gives the feel of oneness in a garden. A garden should look and feel as though it belongs in its space. As you move throughout a garden, it should look as though you are in the same garden. You should not have to look around for fear that you have accidentally ventured into the neighbor’s garden.
This is not to say that your garden can’t have various “rooms.” I visited a garden last week that had several, seemingly unrelated, “rooms,” but the garden had elements that were consistent throughout that held it altogether. These elements unify the space as one garden.
So back to the garden in the Toronto area that really caught my eye. This is what the home and garden looked like as we approached. It is a nice home in a very nice neighborhood, but nothing at this point grabbed me. As I walked up to the house I was immediately interested in the entrance. The front door has a very distinctive shape. Upon closer inspection, the door is recessed and framed with an arc. The door frame and the door itself also featured the top arc. At this point I was really loving this front door. And then I turned around…
Just at the foot of the step leading up to the door is that same arc in the paving pattern. I hadn’t noticed it upon my approach because I was so captivated by the door. But once I turned to look at the view from the front door, I saw the repeated pattern.
The full view from the front door revealed this same shape repeated in the shape of the entrance landing.
There are many ways to achieve unity in a garden, but some of the hard and fast rules include:
- Always let the existing home and its features guide you in choosing materials, colors, styles, lines, and distinctive shapes to repeat throughout the garden.
- Repetition is key.
The arc shape is taken from the home—not just from the front entrance but from the roof line as well.
To the side of the home there is a room on the first floor with a corresponding balcony. The arc is used here as well.
The repetition of the arc follows throughout the garden. On either side of the front door, visitors must walk through the metal arbors to enter the garden. The arbors and fencing are stunning in their own right, but you will also notice that the design of the arbors include an arc.
Even the pathway that leads to the driveway on the right side of the house was in the shape of an arc.
An elevated patio is immediately seen upon entering the main garden to the left of the house. The mowing strip along the edges of the lawn that run in front of the patio clearly show an arc. That same arc is mirrored in the curved metal trellis behind the patio.
Upon close inspection of the mowing strip, the corners of the lawn use an arc. The shape of the lawn became much more interesting by repeating the arc in the corners of this, otherwise, rectangular lawn. (see Design Tip: Give Your Lawn a Shape
Yes, I was coveting the greenhouse to the rear of the garden as was every other person there. It’s a wonder that I managed to get a picture without all of the oglers.
But if you look closer, there is the arc in the walkway at the entrance to the greenhouse. Just brilliant. It’s the little things, you know.
Finally, there was a small focal point in the lawn that corresponded with the circular raised patio. Again the shapes (arcs) are repeated even in the sculptural piece. Good design is no accident. Good design is achieved through following basic design principles and through keen observation. This garden followed the unity rule to a T and the overall feel and appearance was extremely pleasing.
Ways to Achieve Unity
- Repeat. If it is good to use once, it is good to use again.
- Use a distinctive and strictly adhered to color palette. This applies to the hardscape as well as the plantings.
- Use a limited range of hardscaping materials.
- Look to the house for shapes to use throughout. Choose one to emphasize.
- Use a distinctive plant or plant grouping to repeat throughout the garden.
- Maintain the same garden style or theme throughout the space.
- Choose a common element (such as pathways) that runs throughout the garden especially if you have garden “rooms” in which each room has its own style. This common element will hold (unify) the garden together.
Keep the unity principle in mind when planning your garden for a overall satisfying design.