Take Your Garden Design to the Next Level

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.

A brick path, set on the diagonal. leads through leafy green plant borders

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.

iconThis trellis from Plow & Hearth is perfect.  The arch is a nice departure from straight lines, and the size is substantial enough for big impact. Click on the photo to learn more. (affiliate link)

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.

hostas line path

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.

Photo of willow in front of blue sky
August days

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.

a stone pillar along the garden path is covered with lichen and moss

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.

Elephant ear plant, Colocasia gigantea
Elephant ear plant, Colocasia gigantea

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

orange coleus, green sedge, purple potato vine, black iron trellis

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.

photo credit: Sabse713

Benches and other outdoor furniture pieces can provide horizontal and vertical lines to the garden, whether they are used to hold planters or people.

An old iron bistro set is painted white. The top of the table is covered with plantings of succulents.

Before you throw out that old bistro set, consider an up-cycle like the succulents table shown in the photo above.

iconThe bench in the photo above brings curved lines into the garden design.  Click on the photo for more information. (Affiliate link)

Natural Levels

Keeping you design natural doesn’t mean that you forego line considerations.


ostrich fern, astilbe, hosta, and impatiens mounded in a border

Mounding or sloping the ground is one of the most popular ways to create progressive height.


File Sep 18, 9 27 37 AM

Like the understory in a forest, shrubs are a great way to transition from short to tall plants in the landscape.


rocks are arranged in an open spiral and then filled with soil to make a planter

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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Author: A. JoAnn

Here is where I share the beauty I find in everyday life; and the humor, too!

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