Top 3 Design Tips From Portland Landscaping Experts

July 01, 2019

Landscape East West Stone Patio“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” Did you know these wise words from the Dalai Lama apply to landscape design? Landscape design experts start with sound design principles as a foundation. They can then produce stunning designs knowing they may decide to break a few rules to accommodate their creative choices.

Our award-winning design experts have decades of experience creating beautiful outdoor spaces that adhere to fundamental design principles while bending rules to allow for inspired artistry. And to help you get your creative juices flowing, they’ve shared their top landscape design tips and guidelines.

Tip #1: Unity

Unity refers to the way various elements of a landscape blend together, creating a sense of harmony and balance. Here are a few ways to achieve unity and avoid landscape chaos:

  • Repetition

    Landscape designers often plant the same species in different parts of a property. You can repeat just about anything in the garden. Recognizing the same plant in various locations is visually pleasing and adds to a landscape’s balance and harmony. 
  • Consistency

Think about creating a consistent color palette. Size can also be a means of creating consistency, as can texture.

  • Theme

If you’re fascinated with hummingbirds, you might use them as a garden theme. In this case, your landscaper might recommend using a main color such as magnetic red, as showcased in hollyhocks, red columbine, and fuchsia. Hummingbirds adore red blossoms. Furthermore, you could add hummingbird accessories such as feeders. Creating repetition and consistency is easy when you incorporate a theme into your landscape. 


Using Consistency, Repetition, And Theme To Achieve Unity

The human eye delights in familiarity. If you echo similar textures, colors, plant types and vertical heights throughout your landscape design, guests and family members will find your garden more attractive.

Landscape experts recommend using a theme to tie everything together in your landscape design. For instance, if you love fluttering winged insects, you might create a butterfly garden, with all the flowers that butterflies adore – e.g. liatris, phlox, bee balm, purple coneflowers, etc. Other themes include soothing Zen, traditional English garden, or tropical. Choose a theme that resonates with your personal tastes and interests. Once you have a theme in mind, it’s easier to find accessories, plants and other elements that will bring unity to your landscape design.

Tip #2: Proportion

Professional designers speculate that this is the most commonly disregarded rule in landscape design. Proportion refers to the practice of appropriately sizing different elements. Basically, you want the size of garden statues, seating, and species to match the size of your property. 

Have you ever seen a garden that just didn’t look right? The problem might be poor proportions. For example, if you have a small backyard space, a gigantic topiary probably won’t work; it will seem ridiculously large. However, a beautiful outdoor bonsai plant would match your miniature space and meet the landscape design rule of proper proportion.

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Tip #3: Simplicity

Don’t let your landscape design become chaotic. For instance, rather than selecting ten different shades for your garden, choose two or three complementary colors. Keeping things simple will allow your landscape’s most striking elements to shine. From interior designers to artists to landscape designers, certain ideas ring true across creative mediums. You can apply the universal design principles listed below to create a more sophisticated, appealing landscape design.

Applying The KISS Principle

It was American aeronautical engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson who coined the phrase, “Keep it simple stupid.” In design, the KISS acronym means focusing on the necessary elements, not trying to accomplish too much at once. Good designs avoid a cluttered, distracting space. Remember, you can always add more later. 

One way to keep it simple is to choose two or three colors to repeat across your landscape. Another approach is to use the same materials throughout your landscape design. For instance, hardscaping elements such as pavers and rock borders are a simple way to delineate different areas of your garden.


  • Transitions


Professional landscape designers recommend gradually shifting the feel of the space using plant size, foliage textures, and colors, among other elements. Try to avoid abrupt shifts in your design. For instance, when moving from a public front yard area to a serene backyard oasis, you could establish an effective transition by first featuring bright reds and yellows and then shifting to calming purples and blues as you get closer to the backyard area.


  • Lines And Shapes


If you’re interested in creating a calming environment, choose curvy lines. Sharp, straight lines, in contrast, are great for moving visitors quickly from one space to another. Straight lines are also excellent in more formal landscape designs.


  • Proportion


A strong landscape design features proportionally sized plants and accessories. Poor proportion is jarring. For instance, a seven-foot-tall reproduction of Michelangelo’s David statue would definitely feel out of place in a small courtyard garden. Such large, bold statuary would be better suited to a broad expanse. Aim to match the size of your species and ornamentation to the available space in your landscape.


  • Symmetry and Asymmetry


Many people have an instinctive appreciation for symmetry. You probably notice when landscape designers repeat similar plants on either side of a walkway they’re creating symmetry. But asymmetry can be an effective landscape design method, too. For instance, you might feature shade plants on one side of your front yard and sun-loving varieties on the other side. Asymmetry is more difficult to apply masterfully, so if that appeals to you it may be best to contract with professional landscape designers.

How do you envision your ideal outdoor space?

Looking for inspiration? View our portfolio. Landscape East & West proudly serves the Portland-metro area, including Hillsboro, Clackamas, West Linn, Beaverton, and surrounding areas. Our award-winning design experts are on hand to help you every step of the way. Visit our Design/Build page for information on patios, retaining walls, outdoor kitchens, and more. 

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