The concepts of garden design 

Most garden designers have an underlying garden design philosophy that guides and influences their work, whether or not they explicitly state it. A designer must balance the conflicting effects on any outdoor area, including the larger surrounding environment, the garden’s unique geometry about its structure and location, and its users’ practical requirements and preferences. It takes both listening and talking to create a design that is inventive, attractive, and useful, as well as paying careful attention to the relationship between the client, the site, and nature. One must make an effort to avoid putting preconceived notions on an existing environment since each one will have a unique story to tell.

The proverb “A good garden has excellent bones” is filled with great insight. A great outdoor area must have a distinct sense of structure, although this may be done in several ways. Although there are more options than ever for hard landscaping materials, one must frequently employ living things or the ground itself as “green architecture” to give gardens structure. While utilising fewer resources and creating homes for animals, hedging, topiary, sculpted landforms, and mowed trails through tall grass may all impart a subtle and natural feeling of shape. These techniques also highlight the changing seasons rather than giving the appearance that hard landscaping features provide, which is more static. 

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The seating spaces in garden design _©Thomas Robertson

The thought process of garden designer:

Subtlety and accuracy of finish are crucial, with all aspects being of a piece with their surroundings and seeming to flow organically from what the site indicates. One must choose materials that blend in with their surroundings and do not overtly draw attention to themselves. In my opinion, a garden should get better with age, and the high trend is best avoided in anything meant to endure more than a season. It’s not necessary to have an unduly orthodox or conservative stance to design a garden that will last for years and look stunning.

Both realism and modernity have an impact on how one handles both plants and hard landscaping elements. Naturalism should encourage one to imitate plant communities that are attractive and thrive together since, in nature, plants never appear artificial. Modernism encourages a desire for simplicity and a focus on the basics, a fondness for straightforward materials, and the idea that form must come after function. 

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A tapestry of colours with different plant species © Anne Balogh

The principles of garden designers: 

1) Obeying the laws of Nature:

Yes, this is a “law” rather than merely a regulation. It discusses the word garden’s “enclosure” fundamental meaning. It is vitally essential to foster a sense of sanctuary and see oneself being embraced by nature. According to the rule of substantial enclosure, one experiences a sense of section when a space’s vertical border is at least one-third the size of the horizontal area we occupy. It is based on behavioural psychology studies.

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A project in Pacific Palisades © David Despau

2) Following the regulating line:

The concept is that a unique architectural feature, like a doorway, building edge, or window mullion, or an eye-catching natural element, like a large tree, a swimming pool, or a property line, may “create” an imaginary line that connects and organises the design. For instance, when planning one backyard, I projected the lines of the building extending into the garden area before lining up the wooden walkway and swimming pool with those lines. Even after being softened with planting, the outcome is coherent and well-organized. A regulating line is a guarantee against caprice, as the renowned architect (and philosopher) Le Corbusier stated. It gives the piece a rhythmic character. The work’s basic geometry is fixed by selecting a regulating line.

The two factors that make the regulating line so essential are brought up by Le Corbusier, but possibly in a contradictory way. The first is the notion of underlying order: the garden, despite its naturalness or wildness, is built upon firm principles, or what is frequently referred to as “good bones” in the gardening community. Second, the designer is the one who chooses and manipulates the regulating lines—at least as I use them—to construct the garden. And I would assert that more than any other idea, the usage of the regulating line distinguishes professional from amateur design.

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The regulating lines intersecting at the base of the tree ©David Despau

3) Using the Golden proportions:

One can improve the design by using some guidelines. One is the Golden Ratio, a proportional ratio that has been employed historically as a guide to an aesthetically attractive feeling of balance and order. Examples include the Greek Parthenon and the Great Pyramids of Giza. You probably didn’t realise that landscape architects had to master arithmetic, but I use the Golden Ratio in practice by using its twin, the Golden Rectangle, in which the ratio of the short side to the long side is equal to the ratio of the long side to the total of both sides (a/b = b/a+b). One should frequently utilise the Golden Rectangle ratio, which is around 1: 1.6, to set out terraces, patios, arbours, and lawns. They don’t call it golden proportion for anything—it’s rectangle proportion that always looks fantastic!

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Raised plants follow the Golden rectangle ©David Despau

4) Turning to Thomas D. Church for designing steps:

His landmark book Gardens Are for People clearly states that the riser and tread should be twice as tall as 26 inches. This means that the tread, which is what you walk on, should be 16 inches long if the riser is 5 inches. The rule is valid, and I’ve used it for anything from gradual patio-level changes to sheer canyon sides. A helpful corollary suggests that two persons can only ascend steps side by side if there is a minimum width of 5 feet.

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The tiles faced steps follow the Church’s ratio © David Despau

5) The size matters:

This is the last piece of advice on scale and the shaping of space. The option to widen or narrow a stairway, lengthen or shorten a pool, or raise or lower a pergola is nearly often made in favour of the former. I recall setting up an arbour in my yard with poles that were 10 feet tall and listening to dependable friends question whether it wasn’t “a touch too lofty.” Fortunately, I adhered to my guns, and now, 18 years later, the arbour looks perfect, draped with wisteria and supported at the ground by groups of pots.

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Hanging and surrounding foliage giving a sense of space © David Despau

6) Planting Big to Small

Nature’s unlimited variety and irrationality are more readily apparent in plants than in any other component of gardens, making them possibly the most difficult to regulate. However, a garden’s successful planting is the icing on the cake. I’ve always done well by following three rules. The first rule is to plant from large to small: begin with trees, then go on to shrubs, perennials, and ground cover. This is significant both compositionally (viewing the larger forms first helps one understand the whole structure) and practically speaking. It would be tragic to ruin or destroy a recently planted bed; setting a large tree may require machinery or at least several gardeners and considerable room for moving and stationing nutrients and soils.

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The perennials and containers planted on either sides_ © David Despau

7) Plant in masses:

First, plant large to small: begin with trees, then go on to shrubs, then perennials, and finally, ground cover. This is crucial in every aspect, not only compositionally (viewing the larger shapes first helps one understand the entire structure). Setting a large tree may need equipment, or at the very least many gardeners, and plenty of room for relocating amendments and soils; it would be tragic to ruin or destroy a just planted bed.

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Ornamental grasses as mass planting on both the sides_© David Despau

8) Conclusion:

Planting a $5 plant in a 50-cent hole is preferable to planting a $5 plant in a 50-cent hole. There is no finer planting advice than Ralph Snodsmith, my first official gardening instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and talk radio personality (a character whose professional attire was invariably a forest green three-piece suit). No matter how clever a strategy is conceived, if the plants are not properly planted—at a suitable height, in a large enough pit, and with the necessary amendments—the results are sure to be subpar. Some laws just cannot be disregarded.

Angel’s trumpet plant enhancing the beauty of the house_© David Despau

Citations:

1) Robertson, T. (2020). The seating spaces in garden design [Online image The seating spaces in garden design]. https://chaddiweb.medium.com/what-makes-a-good-garden-gardening-design-162a6ff4b53

2) Balogh, A. (n.d.). A tapestry of colors with different plant species [Online image A tapestry of colors with different plant species]. In gardendesign.com. Retrieved December 24, 2022, from https://www.gardendesign.com/designers/michelle-derviss.html

3) David Despau. (2015). A project in Pacific Palisades [Online image A project in Pacific Palisades]. In R. Stenier (Ed.), gardendesign.com. https://www.gardendesign.com/landscape-design/rules.html

4) David Despau. (2015). The regulating lines intersecting at the base of the tree [Online image A project in Pacific Palisades]. In R. Stenier (Ed.), gardendesign.com. https://www.gardendesign.com/landscape-design/rules.html

5) David Despau. (2015). Raised plants follow the Golden rectangle [Online image A project in Pacific Palisades]. In R. Stenier (Ed.), gardendesign.com. https://www.gardendesign.com/landscape-design/rules.html

6) David Despau. (2015). The tiles faced steps follow the Church’s ratio [Online image A project in Pacific Palisades]. In R. Stenier (Ed.), gardendesign.com. https://www.gardendesign.com/landscape-design/rules.html

7) David Despau. (2015). Hanging and surrounding foliage giving a sense of space [Online image A project in Pacific Palisades]. In R. Stenier (Ed.), gardendesign.com. https://www.gardendesign.com/landscape-design/rules.html

8) David Despau. (2015). The perennials and containers planted on either sides [Online image A project in Pacific Palisades]. In R. Stenier (Ed.), gardendesign.com. https://www.gardendesign.com/landscape-design/rules.html

9) David Despau. (2015). Ornamental grasses as mass planting on both the sides [Online image A project in Pacific Palisades]. In R. Stenier (Ed.), gardendesign.com. https://www.gardendesign.com/landscape-design/rules.html

10) David Despau. (2015). Angel’s trumpet plant enhancing the beauty of the house [Online image A project in Pacific Palisades]. In R. Stenier (Ed.), gardendesign.com. https://www.gardendesign.com/landscape-design/rules.html

Author

Aniket is an ardent and passionate Young Architect who likes to explore the diversities in the Architectural field. He is a Nature loving person and tries to learn from it. His curiosity and passion for architecture enhance the philosophical aspect of his personality. His love for our field comes from the books he reads, the people he meets, and most importantly his observations of minute details.

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