On the five principles of landscape design, we’ve covered repetition, scale, dominance and balance. All are important, however as mentioned previously, I consider repetition to be the most important of all. The first four were the easiest to digest and understand. The fifth - unity - is more difficult for most gardeners to comprehend. The good news is that if you implement the other four, unity will happen on its own.
Unity also could be described as “harmony.” For when your landscape design has achieved unity, all things fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, with nothing out of place or failing to relate to the other parts or the whole.
One of the best ways to tell if a landscape has unity is by walking through it fully conscience of the “big picture.” You should never turn a corner and feel like you’ve just stepped into another landscape. No matter what part of a well designed landscape you enter, you should still feel like it is a part of the whole design concept. This can actually be a bit tricky.
For years, especially in European designs, landscape “rooms” have been fitted into designs just like those in a house. We are able to create walls with fences, hedges, and assorted barriers. We of course can have furniture and artwork in outdoor landscapes. And still yet we can create ceilings with arbors, pergolas, vines and trees. And just like in our homes, our outdoor rooms often have completely different personalities, color schemes and furnishings. The danger, however, is having such a drastically different personality that the room seems like it belongs in another landscape.
So how do we avoid this common mistake? Repetition is generally the answer. Notice, when you go in most rooms of a well-designed house, the walls, ceiling and trim are generally the same throughout. In addition, the level of housekeeping and other personal traits are often continued throughout the home.
This same process should be repeated in the landscape. No matter what style or theme you have in your front yard or backyard, you should repeat some unifying elements throughout the entire property. One of the simplest ways is to use the same type of edging throughout the landscape. This is very much the same as using the same trim and woodwork throughout a house or the same continuous frame around a picture.
Repeating the same type of lawn or groundcover throughout also helps provide unity, much the same way that repeating a type of flooring in a home does. If every room in a house had a different color of carpet or tile, it would be a bit disruptive - just like having many types of turfgrass or flowerbeds in a yard. Repeating similarly shaped beds throughout a design also helps achieve unity. If part of your design features formal rectilinear shapes, and others more natural freeform ones, it will be bit hard to think of them as belonging to the same landscape. That’s why picking a general design theme from the very beginning is such a good idea.
I often tell people to describe the theme of their design on paper before they ever get started. Then, when implementing the design, they should stay within their chosen parameters by referring to their chosen theme. One example might include an old-fashioned cottage garden. This might imply curved beds, colorful flowers and a bit looser maintenance. Another theme might fit more of an engineer’s personality, with straight lines, symmetrical balance, muted colors and meticulous maintenance.
There is no right or wrong here. The important thing is to have a plan and stick with it as often as possible. The more you do, the more unity you will achieve. There’s nothing wrong with changing your theme, but it often requires changing the entire landscape to make it fit.
Landscape design is not complicated. It just requires some thought, planning and discipline. There’s really no difference in interior design, fashion design, floral design and landscape design, as the principles are exactly the same. Never forget them, as they’ve united designers since the art began.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. You can follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens,” read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com or read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com). For more information on local educational programming, go to smith.agrilife.org.