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Basic Landscape Design Principles | State College, PA

Embarking on a garden makeover or outdoor revamp? Grasping the essentials of basic landscape design can be your secret weapon in designing a beautiful landscape.

When you understand the core principles and elements that go into a well-designed landscape, you'll be better equipped to make choices that not only beautify your outdoor space but also make it more functional and harmonious. This knowledge sets the stage for a successful landscaping project that you'll be proud to call your own.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the seven principles and essential elements of landscape design can elevate your outdoor space from ordinary to extraordinary.

  • Knowing your landscape type and planning around it can significantly influence your design choices, making your outdoor space both beautiful and functional.

  • While DIY efforts can go a long way, hiring a professional landscape designer ensures that every detail is meticulously planned and executed for a truly stunning result.

The Seven Landscape Design Principles

An impressive backyard landscape (with settees and table) using all 7 design principles effectively

Before you start tilling the soil or selecting your ideal plants, let's learn about the seven fundamental principles that can transform any garden design from ordinary to exceptional. These are the nuts and bolts that make your outdoor space not only look amazing but also work for you in a practical sense.


Let's start with simplicity. Think of it as decluttering your garden. You don't need to cram every inch with plants and features. A well-chosen selection can speak volumes.

Focus on essential elements that serve a purpose to make your outdoor space easier to navigate and maintain. Plus, a clean design is always easier on the eyes.


Unity is like the glue that holds your garden together. It's about making sure everything feels like it's part of a bigger picture. You can achieve this by repeating certain elements, like using the same plants or materials throughout the space.

But remember, too much of a good thing can be overwhelming, so moderation is key.


Balance is all about creating a sense of stability and equilibrium. Whether you're going for a symmetrical look with matching elements on each side or an asymmetrical setup that still feels balanced, the aim is to create a space that feels both grounded and dynamic.


Unity and balance are great, but let's not make things monotonous. Variety adds that extra zing to your garden. Use different shapes, sizes, and colors. Maybe mix in some ornamental grasses with your flower beds or add a pop of color with some bright foliage.


Now, let's talk about the showstoppers in your garden—your focal points. These are the elements that grab attention, like a stunning water feature, a majestic tree, or even a striking piece of garden art. They add drama and intrigue, drawing the eye and making your garden memorable.


Scale and proportion are all about the size game. Your towering trees shouldn't dwarf your flower beds, and your garden furniture shouldn't feel like it belongs in a dollhouse. Keeping things in proportion creates a harmonious flow throughout your outdoor space.


Last but not least, sequence is the art of transition. It's how you move from tall plants to medium ones to ground cover, or from coarse textures to smooth ones. The idea is to guide the eye on a pleasing journey, rather than jumping abruptly from one element to another.

Types of Landscapes

A mountain house garden whose landscape follows the sloping shape of the land

Knowing the kind of landscape you're working with can also significantly influence your design choices, from plant selection to hardscape materials. So, let's explore the most common types you might find yourself dealing with.


You're dealing with rugged terrain when it comes to mountain landscapes and that means your design process will involve working with the land, not against it. Evergreen trees are often a staple here, providing year-round color and structure.

The elevation changes can be your best friend, offering opportunities for stunning viewpoints or secluded nooks. Water features like streams or waterfalls can also be a natural fit in these settings.


Coastal landscapes are where the land meets the sea. The soil is often sandy and the air salty, so you'll need plants that can handle these conditions. Think salt-tolerant grasses, succulents, and hardy shrubs.

The proximity to water also gives you a unique opportunity to create a seamless transition from your garden to the natural landscape. And let's not forget the potential for some stunning sunset views!


Flat landscapes are like a blank canvas—full of possibilities but requiring a creative touch. The lack of natural elevation means you might want to introduce some. Consider adding raised beds, berms, or even terracing to create visual interest.

The openness also means you have the freedom to play around with focal points and sightlines. Want to add a maze of hedges, a central water feature, or a striking piece of garden art? The world—or in this case, your garden—is your oyster.

Landscape Design Elements

A flower garden showcasing balance and lots of color

After exploring the types of landscapes and how they can influence your design choices, it's time to dive into the little details. Let's talk about landscape design elements and how knowing the basics can help you in creating a functional and harmonious space.

Let's break down these elements one by one.


Color is the spice of your landscape—it sets the mood and creates visual interest. Whether you're going for a serene, monochromatic scheme or a vibrant, multi-colored palette, color choices can make or break your design.

Consider seasonal changes as well. Some plants may offer beautiful fall foliage or bright spring blooms.


Form is all about the shape of elements in your landscape, from plants to sculptures and even pathways. The form can range from round bushes to vase-shaped plants or pyramidal trees.

Mixing different forms adds complexity and interest, but it's crucial to maintain balance so that no single form dominates the space.


Lines are the invisible forces that guide the eye through the landscape. They can be straight, leading the eye directly to a focal point, or curved, creating a more relaxed and natural movement. Lines can be created through the arrangement of plants, the layout of paths, or even the edges of a garden bed.


Scale refers to the size relationship among different elements in your landscape. It's all about proportion. For example, a large tree might overpower a small garden but could be perfectly balanced in a more expansive space. Similarly, a small water feature might look lost in a large yard but could be the star of a smaller garden.


Texture adds depth and contrast to a landscape. It comes from various sources—leaves, flowers, bark, or even hardscape materials like stone or wood. Fine textures like feathery grasses can soften a space, while coarse textures like large, bold leaves can add weight and substance.

Planning a Landscape Design

A landscape architect drawing a landscape plan

Now that we've covered the essential elements to consider in your landscape design, let's move on to the planning stage. Planning is where your vision starts to take shape, and it's crucial for ensuring that your landscape is both beautiful and functional. So, how do you go about it? Let's walk through the steps:

Create a list of your must-haves

Before you even touch a spade or consult a landscape contractor, it's crucial to have a clear vision for your outdoor space. What are the non-negotiable elements that you absolutely must have?

Perhaps you've always wanted a water feature to serve as a focal point, or maybe a fire pit for those cozy evening gatherings. It could be specific landscape plants that you've always admired, or garden sculptures that resonate with your personal style.

Creating this list upfront serves multiple purposes. First, it helps you focus your design around these key elements, ensuring they integrate seamlessly into your landscape. This is where the principles of landscape design come into play, helping you create unity and a visually pleasing landscape.

Second, having a list aids in budgeting. You'll know where to allocate resources to make the most impact. Lastly, it provides a roadmap for landscape architects or designers you might collaborate with so that the final design is aligned with your vision.

Lay out your basics

Think of this step as laying the foundation of your dream home. These are the building blocks of your design—raised planting beds, fountains, seating areas, or even a shed. Sketch out where these elements will go and consider how they'll interact with each other and the natural features of your space.

This is also the stage where you might consult with a professional landscape designer to ensure that your plans are both aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Select your plants

With the layout set, it's time to bring life to your design by selecting plants. But don't just pick any pretty flower. Consider how each plant will fit visually with the others.

Will they create a harmonious color scheme? Do they have varying textures and forms that add interest without overwhelming the space? Also, think about practical aspects like drainage, sunlight requirements, and how big the plants will get as they grow.

From Basic Knowledge to a Breathtaking Space: Make It Happen with Landscape II!

Ready to turn your garden dreams into reality? At Landscape II, we're all about creating memorable outdoor experiences. Our team of professional landscape designers is skilled in applying landscape design principles to transform any outdoor space into a beautiful landscape.

Don't settle for a garden that's just "good enough." Make it extraordinary with Landscape II. Contact us to get started on your journey to a more beautiful landscape today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 7 principles of landscape design to remember?

The seven principles of landscape design are simplicity, unity, balance, variety, emphasis, scale/proportion, and sequence. These principles serve as the backbone for creating a visually pleasing and functional outdoor space.

What are the 5 basic elements of landscape design to remember?

The five basic elements of landscape design are color, form, line, scale, and texture. These elements help set the mood and guide the visual flow of your garden or outdoor space.

How do you do a simple landscape design?

A simple landscape design starts with understanding your space and what you want to achieve. List down your must-haves, lay out the basic structures like planting beds or water features, and then select plants that fit visually and functionally.

What are the 4 elements of landscape design to remember?

While some consider five elements, the core four are often color, form, line, and texture. These elements are essential in creating a cohesive and visually pleasing landscape.


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