Whether you realize it or not, whenever you make a decision about doing something one way over another, that is design. Maybe not in the formal sense, but you're using your inner creative eye to do something this way instead of that. You may not have all the technical terminology, but that's pretty much it. Here then, are a few basic principles that you might keep in the back of your mind the next time you decide to make some landscape changes.
The basic elements of landscape design are:
Color: can be quite complex, but in essence if you want to achieve unity, match warm colors to warm colors (red, yellow and orange) and cool to cool (blue, purple and green). This will make it easy to create a very unified look when selecting annuals and shrubbery.
In general, warm colors tend to excite the viewer, while cool colors are more likely to relax the viewer. This makes a color like red a natural for focal points, and a color like blue a logical choice for meditation gardens.
Form: is the shape of a plant. Upright, oval, columnar, spreading, broad spreading, or weeping are all examples of form.
Line: the spatial contrast between differing materials. For example: the line between the edge of the lawn and the garden bed. The vertical and horizontal form shapes of individual and grouped plantings. Depending on your overall preferences, straight lines tend to represent more formal settings, while curved lines are more casual settings.
Scale: mixing different sized forms in relation the size of your property and your home. Look for contrast from area to area. Think of a of printed page of words as your landscape. It is made up of different size paragraphs, but also individual sentences lengths, individual words made up of individual characters that repeat in various ways. Varying letter heights with spaces with an occasional exclamation mark thrown in for emphasis!
Texture: each plant has a look in different lighting and different times of the day. Each of these give the plant a different apparent texture. However, some plants could be considered to have definite identifiable textures no matter what the lighting. For example, fountain grass has a soft willowy look at maturity compared to a hawthorne tree.
Landscape design for the do-it-yourselfer might consider these elements when selecting plants. Do you contrast colors for a discordant feeling, or select like colors to create a unified look? Is the garden going to be cool and relaxing, or warm and exciting? Formal or informal? Use the scale of the plants to balance with your home's size.
Balance is a key factor. Meandering or circular pathways in the garden are preferred to straight paths, as a straight walkway may cause feelings of discomfort.
Remember: There are many ways of creating a beautiful garden. No one way is better than another: each must suit different situations and people.