You are here: Home / Garden Design Guide / Some Lesser Rules / Line and Form

Line and Form

In garden designing, especially at the paper and pencil stage, pattern is important. Beginning with that imaginary center line or axis, strive to develop an attractive pattern, made up at this stage entirely of lines. The formal design stresses straight lines, right angles, and segments of circles; the informal or naturalistic depends on long flowing curves. Too often, when it is time to select plants to carry out the design, the pattern is forgotten. As a result a fine original effect is reduced, if not ruined. For example, in the small, simple, formal scheme the parallel lines of the beds along the central panel are the strongest feature. They give definiteness and lead the eye on towards the focal point. Yet often sprawly verbenas, petunias, or spreading moss-pinks are used for edging instead of low, compact ageratum and candytuft that keep their place, or can be sheared back to it after blooming. Tidy plants carry out design by holding the lines of the basic pattern.

On a tour of small gardens, we noticed that those that seemed best designed and lingered longest in the mind had well-defined edges to the garden beds. Most of these edgings were neat little hedges of boxwood or yew, but some were clipped germander, southernwood, heuchera, thrift, or Sweet Alyssum Little Gem. No professional designer would ever sanction seashells, small stones, or upturned bottles of various colors to edge garden patterns, but we have frequently seen such things used in simple gardens to satisfy the craving for definite lines.

Enclosing plantings also require definiteness. Instead of clipped hedges or masonry walls and fences for enclosure, gardeners often use shrub borders. While young these serve the purpose well, but as they grow, they often encroach on areas designed for herbaceous material. Their uneven billowy masses blur the pattern and mar the definiteness of the picture. A selection of shrubs in upright, compact, and slow-growing varieties would be wiser, or more constant clipping or shearing back would help to maintain the all-important line of the planting. In England, anything is sheared to form enclosures. Here we restrict ourselves to certain plants for hedges and feel that it is wrong closely to restrain flowering shrubs. Much bloom is lost when such shrubs are sheared, but usually in enclosures, mass and line are more important than flowers.

In creating your garden composition, think beyond length and breadth to height, particularly for the enclosing and background masses. If you forget height, your composition will be flat and uninteresting, and may get too huge for the simple garden pattern inside. When this happens, the scale is wrong. As you plan, think of skyline and try to develop a silhouette in scale with the picture. Even in herbaceous plantings, fuzzi-ness is often apparent. Long low masses sometimes need a bit of height to give diversity and charm.

Relieve monotony with a group of shrubs at the corners, occasional specimens placed at intervals in front of the hedge, or with a few overhanging trees planted outside the garden. A very small garden is not interesting when severely enclosed by a sheared hedge, which is unrelated to the rest of the landscape. Although segregated a garden must belong in the larger development.

A bit of sheared hedge to back up and emphasize a garden feature is often desirable. Any important point in the design itself, an entrance, crossing, rondpoint, or termination can also be stressed by the use of sheared material. It can be counted on to create definitive lines.

Curves and flowing lines also have their place, but avoid erring on the side of softness. Too often curves produce a rather spineless or voluptuous effect. Since no garden, except possibly an extremely formal public one, should be rigid and uncompromising, a bit of softness here and there is charming. The curved lines of tumbling vines and the graceful foliage of a weeping tree are important to relieve the severe lines of stairways, adjacent buildings, high walls, or uncompromising pool curbing. For such situations, select plants to obscure and blend architectural masses into the garden picture.


See Also

Comments? Suggestions? Compliments? Criticisms?

Please tell us what you think about this page. (E-mail addresses are kept in complete confidence).

^ Top