asymmetrical patterns

Asymmetrical Patterns

Although such a simple garden pattern is the easiest to work
out for most situations, there are places where such a scheme is not suitable.
Perhaps, the axis cannot be laid out so as approximately to bisect the
available area as on a narrow lot. Perhaps one side of the area is much sunnier
than the other, and no matter how carefully balanced the planting scheme, one
side inevitably grows better. Or perhaps a symmetrical scheme would seem too
rigid, or out of keeping with the design of a rambling house.

For such situations, another kind of balance must be
contrived. If the arrangement cannot be symmetrical on a bisecting axis,
balance can be secured by placing large, plain masses on one side against
smaller, more interesting groups on the other.

plate 6

Plate 6. An unsymmetrical balanced pattern is possible where the house is located close to one side of the property.

However if the axis is far to the left of a rectangular
area, the focal point, if it is to be on axis, will have to be off center and
plenty of space will be available for planting on the right and hardly any on
the left. Obviously such a situation is unbalanced and symmetry is impossible,
but a feeling of balance can be achieved unsymmetrically by creating a
balance of interest.

If the space to the left of the axis is quite narrow, if in
fact there is no room for detailed planting, it is necessary to make this line
of enclosure definite with a fence, wall, or formal hedge. Little or no color,
except for a few vines on the wall or fence, can be accommodated, but such
sharp lines, as will be produced, will hold the eye. You can then balance this
strong linear attraction with something equally interesting, perhaps an exotic
tree or shrub like Cedrus atlantica glauca or a fine specimen of Threadleaf
Japanese maple standing free against the rich background of a hemlock hedge or
a shrub border with evergreens. Strong contrasting groups of flowers may be
used, but as their color is transient, several successive combinations will
need to be provided so that the balance of interest may be maintained. To be
effective, such specimens or groups of flowers should be seen across an open
foreground and in this area the principal focal point of the garden may be
placed. The open space will help balance the definiteness of the strong lines
to the left. Everything depends on the composition of the plant groups, their
height and width in proportion to the open area, and to the wall, fence, or
hedge at the left. (Plate 6.)

This occult or unsymmetrical balance is more subtle than
symmetry and to many, more pleasing. It is more difficult to do well and
attempts which fail are more than ordinarily tragic. An unsymmetric arrangement
which fails to come off is weaker than a poor example of symmetrical balance.
In fact it is meaningless. Yet patterns of this type challenge the ingenuity of
the designer, and if well done, have more charm than elementary symmetrical ones.


Finally there are the free patterns known as informal or
naturalistic. Almost without exception these are unsuited to the circumscribed
level area usually available for a small garden on a village or suburban
property. Informal patterns belong to uneven or wooded ground where there is
plenty of space for vistas into deep foliage and winding pathways. Such
patterns should hardly ever be forced on a garden site that is more suited to
the simple formal scheme. Contrary to popular notion, the informal is not
easier to create and it does not necessarily have more charm than the formal.

To be pleasing, the free pattern should be just as tightly
organized as the geometric one, only the basic pattern must be completely
covered up to be harmonious with the surroundings. The design should be felt
rather than seen. The other patterns rely on the relationship of lines. In the
naturalistic style, stress is placed on the relationship of areas. Of course,
these areas are formed and circumscribed by lines, but these should be long,
flowing curves, never meaningless wiggles.

plate 7

Plate 7. The informal pattern, suited to rough or wooded areas, should be balanced on basic axial lines.

Unity in naturalistic schemes is secured by developing an
open central area on a short axial line which leads into the garden from the
house, and by arranging the paths so that they return to the main area and do
not lead off into the woods and vanish. A coherent pattern that interests but
does not confuse is essential. A complicated arrangement of long flowing lines
creating various areas must be worked out so that it holds together. The
observer must be led gradually and easily through it without having to retrace
his steps, and without finding himself up a blind alley. Good, tightly
organized circulation (pathways) generally accomplishes this, and a unified
plan with adequate enframement strengthens it. Balanced plants, unsymmetrically
but wisely placed, give the scheme a restful quality, essential to its
enjoyment. (Plate 7.)

In brief, the best way to lay out a garden is first to
establish the main and secondary axial lines; second, on these as a framework,
to develop a pattern which fits the size and character of the site, and the
taste of the designer; and then, and only then, as the third step, to select
and place the plant material.


  • Good Planting Design Not Beyond The Amateur – Since landscape gardening is a fine art and not a science, as is horticulture, planting design, which is the carrying out of the basic design in terms of plant material, is no less an art. It must be approached with the underlying principles which govern good design.
  • Garden Patterns – Successful gardens are designed and planted according to patterns, and each pattern is based on principles of design, which are common to all the arts ? unity, coherence, and balance. For the purpose of study and comparison garden designs may be classified as formal and informal, conventional or naturalistic, geometric or of free form.
  • Locating Your Garden – The location of your garden necessarily depends upon the shape and topography of the lot, the type of house, its position in relation to property lines, and the location of garage, driveway, walks, and service area.
  • Simple Versus Complex Patterns – Too often the beginner selects for his first garden the most complicated pattern he can find. As experience increases he simplifies until finally a simple and direct scheme is produced.
  • Asymmetrical Patterns – There are places where simple schemes are not suitable. Perhaps, the axis cannot be laid out so as approximately bisect the available area as on a narrow lot. Perhaps one side of the area is much sunnier than the other, or perhaps a symmetrical scheme would seem too rigid, or out of keeping with the design of a rambling house.
  • The Importance of Planning
    Since landscape and garden design is primarily the arrangement of land for use, planning must precede planting. The two must be integrated, the one to serve as a basis for the other.

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