Landscape Design for Beginners

Designing Your Outdoor Space: Basic Principles to Get Started

Varied landscape design

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If you'd like to give your front yard a makeover for some added curb appeal or design a garden for personal enjoyment, it helps to learn the basics of landscape design. The goal of landscape design is to create a harmonious aesthetic through the use of elements such as color, line, and texture. By following the basics, you can design your own landscaping and achieve a yard and garden that's sustainable, balanced, and beautiful.


A good landscape design includes hardscape and softscape elements. Hardscape elements are non-living items such as rocks, walls, patios, arbors, or water features. Softscape refers to the living elements, such as gardens, lawns, shrubs, and trees.

6 Basic Principles of Landscape Design

When you plan a landscape layout, consider all six basic principles for the best results. The first three principles of garden design (proportion, transition, and unity) apply to the overall feel of the landscape. The second set of principles (rhythm, balance, and focalization) pertains to controlling a viewer's eye movement. These principles are achieved with the use of five landscape design elements: color, form, texture, line, and scale (see below).


Proportion is the sense that the size of the individual components (the landscape plants or structures) or groups of components in a landscape is consistent with the landscape as a whole.

Vibrant pink bougainvillea flowers in Florida Keys or Miami, green plants landscaping landscaped lining sidewalk street road house entrance gate door during summer
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A garden design that is out of proportion looks marred by abrupt transitions or by a lack of transitions. For instance, a 5-foot-high stone wall might elegantly set off a large home but the same wall would make a small home look even smaller because the height of the wall is too close to that of the house. There should be a transition of taller trees between the house and the wall to create a gradual change.

A stone walkway lined with trees creating a natural transition

Look Up Look Down Photography / Unsplash


garden design with a sense of proportion also exhibits unity. The placement of landscape plants in a thoughtful manner regarding their form is one method for promoting a unified feel.

For instance, small trees flanking a driveway or an entrance should have the same form to create unity. The repetition of the same form also promotes unity. Unity, or "harmony," has been achieved when the viewer senses that all the landscape plants in a garden design complement each other and have been chosen with one over-arching theme in mind.

Trees lining a gravel garden

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault


Rhythm is the patterned repetition of a motif. In your home landscape design, the motif could consist of the landscaping plants used, for instance. Landscaping plants of one type could be planted in a row or hedge, which would effectively channel the viewer's gaze in one direction, rather than in another. Nothing controls eye movement more readily than a straight line.

Tulips planted at the same height in a front flower garden

The Spruce / Sarah Crowley


Balance refers to the consistency and visual weight of attractions in the yard. For example, balance can be achieved through the repetition of the same size, shape, and color plants that are evenly placed around a property or garden. A large tree on both sides of a house can balance the yard, for example.

Vibrant pink shrubs on either side of a house

Doug Vos / Unsplash


Understanding balance is, in turn, important for an understanding of focalization. Focalization is the forcing of the viewer’s perspective to a specific focal point without it appearing jarring. While it can be achieved through various means, more intense focalization is created through the use of balanced, consistent arrangements of elements.

Bird bath as a focal point in a garden

peplow / Getty Images


Draw attention to a statue in your yard, for example, by reducing clutter around it and using color or line to achieve the goal. Surround the statue with a mass of brilliant red or yellow flowers, design a straight path of paving stones leading to the statuary, or arrange edging with bedding plants to focus the viewer's gaze in the intended direction.

Types of Landscapes

Before putting pen to paper, think about where you live because that will greatly impact what you can successfully plant in your yard. Become acquainted with the USDA zone map to find your zone to determine if you can plant tropical or stick with cold-hardy plants. There are three basic types of landscapes to consider:

  • Mountain landscapes greatly differ from sea-level landscapes and require plants that survive in the rough weather and harsh conditions of higher altitudes.
  • Flat landscapes consist of flat lands, meadows, and farms, which means lots of open land and a lack of protection for plants in extreme weather, sustained winds, or droughts.
  • Coastal landscapes usually demand salt- and drought-tolerant plants.

How to Design a Landscape

When planning both the hardscape and softscape of your property, consider the five basic elements that should be incorporated into landscape design, which include:


Color is usually the most important element of all in a successful landscape design. Combine flowers of warm and cool colors for contrast. Or, keep flowers within either the warm or cool group for a unified look. Using a color wheel will help determine the colors used in your landscape design.


The element of form is defined as the shape of a plant and the structure of its branching pattern. Trees come in many shapes (especially if pruned), including columnar and globular shapes. Likewise, tree forms range structurally from having the stiffly upright branches of Lombardy poplar trees to the droopy quality of a weeping willow.

The form of individual components of a plant also needs to be considered. For example, the leaf form of one type of tree can be very different from that of another type of tree.


Texture is primarily a visual matter in landscape design. For example, a plant's texture is often determined by its leaf size. The plant texture of one bedding plant might be considered more or less coarse than that of an adjacent plant due to differences in leaf size.

To offer variety in your landscape design plans so it is not overly unified, use plants that vary in texture. The element of texture can be subtle enough so that it does not destroy a garden's unity.


The element of line refers to how you arrange borders to govern a viewer's eye movements. Eye movement is unconsciously influenced by the way plant groupings fit or flow together, both on the horizontal and vertical planes. For example, a straight row of trees can be used as a wall to indicate boundaries and direct a viewer's gaze.


Scale is simply the size of one component relative to adjacent components. For example, shrubs should not look like dwarf plantings if planted alone (without a transition) in front of a large home with a deep yard, but they may be scaled well to a smaller yard and home without the need for any transition.

Landscape Design Explained Through Pictures

Take the time to look through completed projects for additional inspiring landscape design ideas. Looking through images helps you to see what style, elements, or designs resonate with you. By studying landscape design pictures, you will begin to see examples of landscape design principles and elements in action. Then you can get a better idea of what a realistic budget for landscaping your home might be. Start with the following types of landscape designs for ideas: