When you see a stunning garden, you often focus on plant color, shape and texture. Going home and planting the same plants doesn’t necessarily translate into capturing the beauty of the original garden.
Another important design element should be considered is line.
What Is “Line?”
Lines can be horizontal, diagonal, vertical, or curved (excuse me, please, math enthusiasts).
The edges of a driveway, a stone wall, a series of flower pots, or wrought iron poles for hanging plants are all examples of how lines are brought into garden design. Lines take your eye on a journey through the landscape.
Where does your eye travel, and why? Where are the stopping points, those places where your vision wants to linger? These are the focal points, and it’s a good idea to include some in your garden design.
Sometimes, you sense something is missing from an otherwise pleasing view. For me, it’s often the vertical elements. (Makes sense, because I’m “big-time” short.) But I’ve also noticed the missing vertical lines in other people’s gardens.
Hanging baskets on wrought iron poles became popular because they were an instant way to bring the vertical line into the garden, for a decent price.
Just sticking an iron pole in the garden and adding a hanging basket doesn’t always work, though. You’ve got to think about scale as well.
Is the vertical element wide enough in proportion to the garden? Are there levels of plant height that transition your eye up the vertical line?
Learn from Design Mistakes
I once made the mistake of purchasing a 2 foot-wide trellis for one side of the house.
The border along that wall had been a deer smorgasbord for years. Since I discovered deer netting, the border was starting to regrow.
It looked unattractive, though, because all of the plants, including the shrubs, were self-sown plants that I transplanted from other beds. Everything was low, at the same level.
I thought a trellis would add a vertical line that would be pleasing until the shrubs got bigger.
The problem, of course, was that a 2 foot-wide trellis was lost on this empty wall. It actually made the border look worse!
Also, because this side of the house was clapboard, and the bed was a straight line, I should have incorporated some curved lines to break the “blockiness.” A trellis with curved ironwork would have been more interesting.
Create Levels in Your Garden
To achieve a good design that incorporates line, think of the landscape as a collection of levels.
You know the basics: small in front, tall in back.
But, you don’t want your eye to keep jumping up and down, from a low growing annual up to a six-foot fountain of grass, and then straight back to ground level again. You want to create transitions.
The photo above shows a tall metal arch incorporated into a garden design. The arch looks great because plants are layered around it, and the ground slopes up to keep your eye on a steady climb.
Think about a natural landscape. You see grasses, maybe a water feature, bushes, and trees of various heights. These transitional levels keep your eye on a smooth path as you look over the landscape.
Landscape designers incorporate a variety of plant heights, garden ornaments, and hardscape features to produce levels in the garden.
Hardscapes (man-made elements like walls, fountains, fences, and paths) add a look of permanence to the garden, and can continue to bring eye-appeal even after plants die back in winter.
Building hardscapes can be expensive.
Probably the easiest way to incorporate a variety of levels in your landscape is with garden ornaments like pots, urns, trellises, poles, and benches.
Planters and Urns
Beautiful planters can lift the garden and patio from standard to spectacular.
Those pots don’t have to be outrageous in color or in price. Some of my all-time favorites are traditional clay pottery.
As the growing season winds down, you’ll see some great deals in stores and online as merchants clear out their summer stock to make room for – (you got it) Christmas.
Scale should be considered when incorporating pots, too. The large urn in the photo above is appropriate for this botanical garden (The Hershey Garden), but it wouldn’t look right in a small bed or at the intersection of two narrow pathways.
Trellises and Vines
Trellises are an elegant way to incorporate vertical lines into your garden design, with or without vines.
In the photo above, notice how the design includes various levels. This display is at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
Vines can also be grown without a trellis, using clips to train the vines up a wall. The above photo is from the Oxford Botanical Garden, Oxford, UK.
Garden Benches, Etc.
Benches and other outdoor furniture pieces can provide horizontal and vertical lines to the garden, whether they are used to hold planters or people.
Before you throw out that old bistro set, consider an up-cycle like the succulents table shown in the photo above.
Keeping you design natural doesn’t mean that you forego line considerations.
Mounding or sloping the ground is one of the most popular ways to create progressive height.
Like the understory in a forest, shrubs are a great way to transition from short to tall plants in the landscape.
This spiral rock design offers height variation and serves as a planter.
The photo above shows how rocks in various colors, sizes, and shapes can be used in a western landscape where water is scarce and rocks are abundant.
How have you incorporated considerations of line into your garden design? We’d love to hear your ideas.
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