From above, the garden as tapestry

by Pam Roy, edited by Bruce Gaudette
October 29, 2009

Recently, as I looked down on a yard from the vantage of a third story deck, I realized I was looking at a living tableau.  My eyes skipped over the random plant placed here and there as if they were unrelated bits of trivia.

These small dots of varying color and texture competed for attention and created a feeling of slight chaos.  The plant lover who had created this garden had succumbed to the temptation of picking up whatever looked colorful each time they visited a nursery and rushed home, eagerly planting the latest prized plant wherever they could find a spot.  Their challenge to me was how to bring a sense of order and cohesiveness to this garden.

In designing a yard that will be primarily viewed from above, there are some things to consider.  Visualize a large-sized painting or a piece of tapestry that you man have see. There is a sense of unity and balance created by the placement of the individual elements and colors.

When looking down on a garden, this same kind of balance can be created.  Plant groups of the same plants in drifts proportional to the size of the space.  In a large space, there may be a drift of seven of more of the same plant  Give the eye something to smoothly follow.

With one or two of the same item here and there, the eye has nothing to lock onto or visually take hold of and follow.  This can leave the viewer with a sense of agitation, or unrest, or just completely fail to grab their attention.  With a grouping or drift of the same plants, you create lines for the eyes to travel along.

Textures of plant foliage can also be planned to capture and lead the eye.  A plant with bolder or larger leaves can stand out as a focal point.  The lines of groups of a particular variety of plants can lead the eye to or away from these focal points.

Use focal points mindfully to avoid again creating the problem of no compelling items of major focus.  Focal points can also be water features, garden art, or hard-scape areas.

Create a sense of balance in your garden tapestry by using a few other basic design principles.  A ratio of two-thirds to one-third is a geometric proportion used in photography and painting, and can be applied to designing your garden.

Especially when viewed from above, these proportions can be used in planning size and shapes of lawns, hard-scapes and planting beds.

Consider also how a particular plant looks when viewed from above.  A plant with a dense rounded canopy will read differently than a plant with flowers that hang down.

Need some inspiration?  Visit a gallery, take an art history class, or go to the library to borrow a few of the many beautiful picture-centric books on landscape design that are available.

Or, if you want to really go crazy and appreciate grander landscape design – go for an airplane flight and be awed by the large-scale patterns and unity in the land as seen from above!

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