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Using Elements And Principles Of Art In A Garden

Updated on July 18, 2012

Using Elements And Principles Of Art In The Garden

(I will be adding illustrations in the near future to better explain my descriptions.)

The art of making a beautiful garden space is much like working with piece of paper, however, you do not need to be an artist to be aware of these tools, nor do you have to be an artist to use them. There are basics of how to arrange and align objects within the space, as well as what sort of objects you use within the space that will determine the overall outcome of your backyard. Although there are many elements and principles of art, listed below are some that you should be aware of when making a design, for example, for working with small gardens.

One does not often think of the element of line in the garden, but this can be evident from the use of lines in woodwork (ex. from decking or the pattern of stonework), from placement of pathways, and the forms that plants grow. Tall plants can be a source of vertical height, and low-lying plants with horizontal growth can provide width. This can later be used with other elements and principles such as perspective to create the illusion of depth, but will be explained further on.

Texture can be used through various mediums in the garden; woodwork, plants, furniture. It utilizes the art elements of pattern and rhythm. However, what is important that texture is not overdone, and various types of texture are placed around contrasting textures to create interest. This can also be used in creating the illusion of depth, by using softer textures to the rear, and larger, coarser textures or smooth textures toward the front of the garden.

Colour is also a very important factor when taking into account the atmosphere of a garden, or if your aim is to create the illusion of space. Cooler colours recede while warmer colours come forward. The utilization of too much contrasting colours can also ruin harmony within the garden and create the feeling of messiness. The psychology of colours must also be taken into account when your aim is create a specific mood for your garden nook.

Value (seen as darker areas or shade in a garden, or with the use of furniture/structures) is considered a separate element of art, but I will group it with colour, for both are tied together. Although the rule with distance is that colour and value decreases as the object is further away, within a garden, value can be used in conjunction with colour to increase contrast and higher values (ie. brighter colours) toward the front of the garden, and less toward the rear. By increasing value in the rear of the area, you can create the illusion that there is more space in the back, just you can't see it when looking at the front.

It may come to you as strange that I list space as an element of gardening, for it's a space that I'm working with, right? However, space within your garden area is important to consider when creating your design. Take, for example, a square area filled with plants and no consideration for empty space; the area will be crowded, and will certainly appear smaller. There should be some consideration into leaving open "negative" spaces within your garden design, to balance out the "positive" or used space and create unity.

There is also perspective to consider when designing a garden, and which is a very useful tool in creating depth. Perspective is a technique of using shapes and space to depict distance; meaning, as objects go into the distance, they become smaller. This can be achieved by placing similar objects of varying sizes at different points of your garden. If you have a path going down the length of your garden, give the illusion of greater space by narrowing the path toward the rear, or placing garden objects of decreasing size toward the rear.

Movement and rhythm describes how the eye travels through the space. Oftentimes, it is good to have one focal point in the garden. This catches an onlooker's attention initially, and based on the placement of other objects that echo the initial focal point, this will lead the eye to other areas of the garden. This helps with generating interest and a sense of unity within the space. Movement and rhythm can also be achieved by using similar colours and textures in a pattern in the garden. This is when colour and texture play a part, for when a garden has too many differing kinds of plants, the eye is bombarded with so many different variations all vying for your attention, rather than working together to create a cohesive whole, that it loses all sense of unity.


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