Design Process & Principles

Over the course of the last few years I’ve detailed the design process, explored landscape design principles and even provided a review of said process and principles to help you keep all the information in one place. However, navigating this site to find the information you seek could be cumbersome at this point, unless you know exactly where to look. For the sake of easy access then, I’ve itemized it all below for you with associated links (in red text).

The Process

The first thing I want to reiterate, and this can’t be overstated, is that design is primarily about organizing and arranging space, not plants. The same way a house must first be properly designed and built before it can be furnished, so the outline of a garden or landscape must first be planned before plants are considered. The functionality of any given space should be the designer’s chief concern, followed by its form – hence the designer’s mantra ‘form follows function’. The design process then, looks like this (click on the red text to go to corresponding post):

Phase 1 – FUNCTIONAL DRAWINGS: one must first determine what one want or needs; for example, garden beds, a deck or patio, walkway, lawn, fireplace etc., and then decide where each will be situated. Various possible locations for each element can be explored before deciding on the best placement for your particular needs.

Phase 2 – CONCEPT DRAWINGS: once you know what you want and where you want it, you can give form to your garden beds, patio, walkway and other garden elements. Remember your design concept can consist of:

As you play with various design lines, there are some Key Things to Remember:

  • Maintain Continuity
  • Avoid acute angles
  • Use design lines to guide planting

Phase 3 – Planting Plan: when your landscape or garden outline has been conceptualized, plants can then be considered. However, before one can effectively arrange plant material, some governing principles must first be understood – we’ll return to the Planting Plan later.

The Guiding Principles

Although designing a garden or landscape requires both creativity and knowledge, anybody can learn how to improve their own gardens with the help of a few guidelines or Design Principles. These principles, as applied to landscape design are:

  1. UNITY – a sense of oneness and harmony in the garden, achieved through:
    • Repetition – repeating elements throughout a composition.
    • Dominance – one element or group of elements is given emphasis
    • Unity of Three – arranging elements in groups of three (or odd numbers)
    • Interconnection – physically connecting all landscape spaces
  2. BALANCE – perceived equilibrium in a garden or landscape composition. Balance can be Symmetrical or Asymmetrical.
  3. MOVEMENT – visual motion throughout a composition
  4. SCALE – size of landscape elements in relation to their surroundings
  5. PROPORTION – size of landscape elements in relation to each other

The Planting Plan Revisited

With a basic understanding of design principles you’ll now be in a better position to choose and arrange plant material, but there are still procedural steps to follow:

  1. FUNCTION – determine if there are functional roles plants need to fill; shade or privacy perhaps.
  2. AESTHETICS – plants provide visual appeal from their physical traits:
  • Colour
    • Gardeners looove colour don’t we? Please refer to the current series of posts examining colour theory as it relates to garden design. When I’ve completed the series I will include links to those posts on this page as well.


Happy clicking y’all,

10 comments on “Design Process & Principles

  1. Suma Mudan says:

    Which landscape design software do you use or recommend? thanks

  2. Jorge says:

    Hello. Thank you very much for your efforts writing this blog. Is there an author I can quote for this source of reference? I find this information pretty relevant for my dissertation, but I’m unsure if I should quote you, Sue, or if you are based on certain literature.

    Thanks in advance, my best regards.

    • Hi Jorge,

      Thanks for your interest in this blog. You pose an interesting question; the writing/verbiage is my own original material, as are my observations and examples – but the theory (design principles, colour theory etc.) is not. These are long-established concepts; learned in design class and reinforced by years of working, teaching and self-study. Certainly much of the information I present can also be found in any number of textbooks, magazine articles and online resources.

      Perhaps you could advise me as to the topic of your dissertation and what exactly you want to quote – then I can better advise you regarding the best reference source for citation (feel free to use the Contact Page for further correspondence). I consider myself an ‘experienced practitioner’ but hesitate to call myself an authority.


  3. […] – art, photography, graphic design, and interior design – apply to the garden also. Check Not Another Gardening Blog for advice on Unity of Three – arranging elements in groups of three (or odd […]

  4. Janet Scarborough says:

    Dear Sue,

    I was wondering if you import a Dynascape drawing into Sketchup to create an elevation drawing. If so, did you learn by trial & error or did you find some good sources of information/instruction?

    Best regards,


    • Hi Janet,

      I use DynaSCAPE’s “Sketch3D” which is an add-on to Google SketchUp. There are a number of really good tutorials on the DynaSCAPE website which walk you through the process.

      Good luck!


      • Janet Scarborough says:

        Thank you for information.I’ll look into it. I have the additional components but pull up SketchUp separately. Janet

  5. Melanie Drecksel says:

    I have learned so much from your blog. Thanks so much for sharing!


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