Use the principles of design to make your garden look beautiful and well-designed. Create proportion, emphasis, balance, movement, rhythm, and unity in your landscape.
Our home has a triangular-shaped planter at the back of the patio. It’s an odd shape for a planter, and we struggled to find plants that would grow well there because it’s half in the sun and half in the shade of the patio cover. We protected the exposed wood in the dirt, but we needed to find a way to make it look good all year because you can see it from inside our dining room, kitchen, and living room. It needed to become a focal point instead of an eyesore.
If you’ve followed me on Instagram much, you may have noticed that I’m starting to get a large collection of succulents. They’ve mostly been Mother’s Day and Christmas gifts from my family. I’ve also gotten clipping and a few small plants from some friends too. I wrote another post about how to plant and care for succulents. I even gave succulents as gifts last year.
I love the variety of my collection, and I wanted a way to show them off. The random assortment of plastic and terra-cotta pots they came in didn’t look good.
Our triangular planter was the perfect place to create my succulent garden, but I struggled with how to use them to make that area look eye-catching. I didn’t want it to look like a mass of plants that were randomly thrown into a planter. I wanted my succulents to shine. With a little research, I learned that garden and landscape design use the same principles of design that I studied in art: proportion, emphasis, balance, rhythm, movement, and unity. So I planned my succulent garden using these principles of design.
Use the Principle of Design to Create a Beautiful Garden
Just like a head must be the right size on a drawing of the human body, every plant needs to be the right scale for the place where it’s planted. Our triangular planter is not very big, only about 8 feet deep and just a few feet wide. However, the planter can be seen from inside the house, so the plants need to be big enough to be seen from several yards away. I used ceramic pots and a bird bath to get the right proportion.
By putting some of the plants into pots, it made those plants look bigger. The pot adds to the mass of the plant, so it can be seen better from inside the house. Most of the pots just have one plant inside, but a few have a second, smaller plant that adds to the size.
I don’t think the proportion is quite right yet. As the plants grow, they will fill the space better. The proportions of my garden should be perfect in a few months. When planning a garden, it’s important to remember that plants will get bigger.
Every space needs a focal point, something that stands out. Otherwise it will look monotonous, boring, or cluttered. The focal point may stand out because of it’s size, it’s color, it’s shape, or it’s texture. When you look at a well-designed painting, room, or yard the focal point is what you notice first. It’s eye-catching and interesting.
Before I added a garden to this triangular planter, the patio posts were the focal point. Ugh! Not only were they an ugly orange color, but because they are so tall, they led your eyes away from the triangular planter. I painted them a dark brown color to help hide them a little and started looking for something more interesting to be the focal point.
I found a beautiful but simple bird bath at a local pottery store. It’s size compared to the rest of the space makes it stand out and look interesting. The bird bath is bigger than all of the plants and pots around it, but not so big that it makes you look somewhere else. It’s vibrant blue color also emphasizes it as a focal point.
There are two ways to have balance. The first is to make everything symmetrical with the focal point in the middle. The other way to achieve balance is asymmetry, where each side is different, but they still balance each other out. Often asymmetry uses the rule of thirds where important parts, like the focal point, are place one-third from the left or right instead in the middle.
Because our planter is an asymmetrical triangle-shape, I used asymmetry to create balance. I placed our focal point, the birth bath, at a third from the right and two-thirds back. I balanced it by placing several smaller pots with plants at a third from the left and one-third back.
Creating balance in such an odd shape and with many different plants was tricky. And took a lot of trial and error. I left all of the succulents in pots and put them around the garden. It took several days of moving the plants and pots around, looking at the garden from every side, both standing and sitting, and then rearranging some more until the planter looked balanced.
Obviously, my garden is not going to move around. Especially not after it took so much work to get everything in the right place. The principle of movement means that the design makes your eyes move around and look at the different parts. If the focal point is where your eyes start, then the design should help you look at the rest of the garden.
I created movement in my little garden with three small mounds. The mounds make parts of the garden higher than others so that those parts stand out. I even planted my tall succulents on the tops to make them stand out even more.
The first mound is right in front of my bird bath so that the birth bath stand leads your eyes down to this mound. The next mound is in the middle left to bring your eyes to the other side of the garden. The last mound is in back so that your eyes get the full tour of the little garden. That third mound is not as noticeable because I don’t want it competing for your attention.
I also tilted all of the pots a little so they are not straight. This added movement and gave an interesting feel to the garden.
Repetition is important to create rhythm in music, in dance, in art, and even in gardening. Using the same element over and over again, especially with the same spacing between, helps to unify the garden and make it look more simplified instead of chaotic. Usually you would use the same plant repeatedly in a garden, but since I have a variety of succulents put together, creating rhythm was really important.
My mounds created repetition, especially with the same type of plant on top of all of them. And they are evenly spaced through the planter. I also put plants with similar leaf shapes together to create repetition.
There was a few succulents, like the little sedum ground cover, that I broke apart and placed throughout the garden. The sedum is planted in three different places, always at the bottom of a mound.
All of the different parts need to work together to make it look like one garden, a single unit. The terra-cotta tiles bordering the planter help with unity because they visually contain the garden in one space. Also, only using succulents helps to unify the space too. But with so many different sizes, shapes, and colors of succulents, I needed something else to unify my garden.
I used river rocks throughout the garden to create unity. If you read my post on installing a sprinkler system, you know that our dirt is full of river rocks, so I didn’t need to buy any. I just used the rocks we dug up while we were preparing our backyard for sod. The river rocks are all a similar gray color, a similar smooth texture, and similar in size. That brings unity.
I also connected the whole succulent garden with trails of small gravel going through the river rocks. Using the gravel throughout the garden brings unity and the lines of the gravel trails bring movement. They give a path for your eyes to visually travel through the space.
The six principles of design I used to create my succulent garden are proportion, emphasis, balance, movement, rhythm, and unity. I use these principles in every part of my house and yard to make my home look and feel well-designed. These rules and guidelines help me to tackle something so abstract as good design.
Don’t forget to read more about how to plant and take care of succulents here.
This post was shared at some of my favorite link parties.