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Balance

FORMAL BALANCE

With unity and segregation still in mind, we next consider balance or equilibrium. In American gardens we tend to rely on formal balance because most of our garden sites are level, or nearly so, and boundaries are made up of straight lines and right angles. To relate house and garden we use axial lines. These closely connect the architectural mass of the house, also composed of straight lines and right angles, to the garden. So it happens we usually end up with a formal pattern.

Many beginning gardeners are repelled by the idea of formality. They fear rigidity. But a formal garden can be simplicity itself. Generally developed on a central axis, it uses straight lines and segments of circles to secure the basic pattern. It is easy to maintain and pleasing at all times, just what most gardeners want.

In a formal garden equilibrium is secured by grouping plants symmetrically on each side of the axis or path to provide equal interest. The stronger the axial line the more definite these balancing masses should be. Balance may also be obtained with color or texture as well as form. If you have a pleasing group of yellow and white tulips underplanted with blue pansies on one side of the garden you should have an identical, or nearly identical group, on the other. It is not necessary to use the same variety of tulip, but there should be present an equal amount of the same color, as well as balance in height, texture, and size of group. This same idea can be followed throughout the seasons with different individuals or groups carrying on the succession of bloom.

To continue, if you have peonies on one side of the garden walk as accents, repeat them on the other side. If you use strong combinations or contrasts of colors for accent, like veronica and lilies, repeat them across the central axis. If on one side you have used white phlox, use it on the other side, or use some other white flower, which blooms at the same time. The size of the groups may vary, but the sum total of weight on each side of the axis in color or texture should be the same. You might have, for example, two small groups of deep pink phlox on the left, and only a single group, equal to the sum of the two small groups, on the right.

plate 9
Plate 9. Formal balance depends on the use of exactly similar masses each side of an axial line.
1. Populus nigra Lombardy6. Althea rosea
2. Thuya occidentalis globosa7. Phlox Mrs. Jenkins
3. Hemerocallis Mrs. J. A. Crawford8. Penstemon Firebird
4. Hosta glauca9. Dianthus plumarius
5. Salvia farinacea10. Iris pallida

There is one variant of this placement rule possible in formal gardens. We have been thinking here of the terminal-motive garden where the center is a long straight path or grass panel. The central-motive garden with four or more equal areas surrounding a central feature is even more formal. Each of the beds must be planted the same way, balanced across the main and secondary axes, and also cornerwise. Here the feeling of balance may be heightened by the use of such strong accent plants at the intersections of the pathways as matched pairs of clipped evergreens, peonies, hemerocallis, or strong color groups. The important thing is so to arrange the planting that you have a feeling of equilibrium as you stand at the principal vantage point and look into the garden. Next to unity, no other principle of compositions will do quite so much for a garden as nice regard for formal or symmetrical balance. (Plate 9).

INFORMAL BALANCE

There is also informal or occult balance, called asymmetrical. This consists in balancing dissimilar elements on each side of the axis. For example, a large roundhead tree, a maple, rather distant from the axis line can be balanced by an emphatic group of evergreens, cedars or arbor-vitae, quite close to the axis line. Or in an herbaceous planting a large mass of soft pink iris on one side may be offset by a single pink peony on the other. Emphatic shapes and coarse textures create an illusion of weight sufficient to balance taller feathery masses. (Plate 10.)

plate 10
Plate 10. Informal balance depends on unsymmetrical masses so placed and composed as to appear in equilibrium.
1. Tilia tomentosa9. Deutzia lemoinei
2. Juniperus virginiana10. Stephanandra incisa
3. Thuya plicata11. Spirea arguta
4. Pseudotsuga taxifolia12. Deutzia Pride of Rochester
5. Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera13. Spirea prunifolium
6. Abies nordmanniana14. Cornus mas
7. Lonicera morrowi15. Cercis canadensis
8. Philadelphia coronarius 

This type of balance, suitable to the informal or naturalistic situation, requires for success a clear perception of scale and of color. Unfortunately, more often than not it is a failure. When it does come off, it is probably more interesting than the simple formal type. Do not be tempted to use occult balance in a formal garden with the hope that it will lessen the rigidity of a scheme. Occult balance is secured with dissimilar material, but space relationships, colors, textures, and form are important to its success. This type of balance is described here not to challenge or to tempt you, but rather as a warning.

Balance must also be considered for the enclosing and background plantings. Here, dealing with more permanent material, you have only to secure balance once and you have it for the rest of the year. With herbaceous material, especially when you depend on bloom for balance, remember that stability and equilibrium must be present at all times. For example, it is not sufficient that the June picture be properly balanced and no consideration be given to July, August, or September pictures. Not even a wealth of color can obscure the fact that a principle of good composition has been neglected.

Balance must also be considered in the placing of garden furnishings. Benches, urns, vases, and the like are often employed as terminals for axes. Be certain that each fulfills a purpose and does not spoil an effect.

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