Aesthetic: Definition in the Context of Landscape Design

Landscaping Can Be Formal or Informal

Foundation planting.
Foundation plantings with depth are considered more aesthetically appealing. David Beaulieu

The definition of aesthetic (adjective), in the most basic sense, is "pertaining to the appreciation of beauty or good taste." The corresponding noun is "aesthetics," which means "the study of the appreciation of beauty or how we perceive beauty." This study is considered important enough to constitute a branch of philosophy.

In the context of landscape design, the term is often used casually. You might say, for example: "That homeowner's yard is aesthetically pleasing," meaning that you like the way it looks.

Landscape design is concerned both with aesthetic and functional elements of landscaping. While the former is ultimately subjective (there is no accounting for tastes, as the old expression goes), professional landscape designers are, in fact, guided by some basic rules that help them to create aesthetically pleasing designs in their clients' yards.

Applying Aesthetics to Your Yard

Where landscape design is concerned with aesthetics, the terminology used is somewhat similar to that employed in the art world: Landscape design principles include such subjects as color theory, form and texture, the role of focal points, and how our perception of "line" and "scale" influence our opinion of a scene.

One of the great aesthetic debates the last few centuries between gardeners has been one focused on overall style: between the styles of the informal and formal garden design schools. The latter prefers symmetry, tight structure, and orderliness. A classic look in a formal garden design is a hedge, neatly manicured, consisting of English boxwood, and used to set off topiary plants. Such a hedge may serve as a divider between planting areas, which bespeaks a tightly-organized design.

By contrast, those whose aesthetic tastes lean toward informal garden design may be drawn to cottage gardens, marked by a wild riot of color and a disdain for obvious organization. This style may seem chaotic, but there is a method behind the madness. Distinctive cottage garden plants are chosen and arranged carefully to give a sense of refined rusticity. While formal gardens are designed to wow us with their geometric precision, cottage gardens are supposed to make us feel relaxed, comfortable, "at home."

Be Practical

As much as you want to beautify your yard, you can't let fancy carry you away. A yard is not an artist's palette where anything goes. The landscape is, in part, an extension of the home. Practical considerations should come first; for example:

  • Your property must be safe to use.
  • It should have a layout that conforms to how you will be using it. A large, well-manicured lawn may not appeal to you on an aesthetic level, but it may be practical to have one if your family wants to play sports outdoors.
  • It should offer privacy (unless you don't mind living in a fishbowl). You are unlikely to get full use out of even the loveliest yard if being in it does not fill you with a sense of serenity.

It is important to be realistic even with the plants that you choose to grow. The best-looking perennial will do you little good if you grow it in a location to which it is ill-suited. Always carefully research what to grow where before buying.

The Union of Beauty and Functionality

Although we speak in the abstract of aesthetics as if it were separate from landscaping elements that serve a practical purpose, the two, in reality, are often united. When we install a fence to improve the privacy in a yard, we want it to be attractive, too. Likewise, a practical walkway meant mainly to connect point A to point B can be nice to look at, too. Those two examples reference hardscape, but the principle applies to softscape and other landscaping elements, as well:

Don't Be Talked Out of What You Want

Much study has gone into comparing and contrasting the formal and informal styles of landscape design, but there is also much that is subjective in what we do or do not find aesthetically pleasing in landscaping. For example, some critics will decry the use of certain plants in a yard simply on the basis that they are very commonly used. Thus you will sometimes hear that plants such as Jackman's clematis and impatiens are "overused."

The charge of overuse is misleading for beginners and really no more than a personal opinion held by professionals and elitist gardeners. To a large degree, unless you are landscaping for someone else or for the purpose of dressing up a property that is about to go onto the real estate market, you should grow plants that you find pretty, not plants that someone else is trying to convince you are more aesthetically appealing

Terms Related to "Aesthetic" to Help You Remember the Definition:

  • Aesthetician
  • Anesthetic

While the connection of the first term (which means a licensed skincare specialist) to "aesthetic" is straightforward enough, it will not be so clear to many how the words "aesthetic" and "anesthetic" are related. The prefix an- means "without" or "not" in Greek. When you are anesthetized, your ability to perceive or to feel is (intentionally) impaired. An alternate spelling for aesthetic is "esthetic."