Garden Design Basics: Using Shapes To Inspire Your Design

I recently met up with a couple of former instructors from the English Gardening School in London. Robin Templar Williams and Moira Farnham were running a design seminar at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, and I attended to catch up with old friends.

It was fun to hear Robin gave a piece of a lecture that I remember clearly from my own school days. It had to do with positive and negative shapes in landscape planning. The key point is to plan the space, to some extent, without consideration of the edges. It is so easy to look at a plan view of your garden and start trying to plan to the shape that it is. But the shape of a typical plot of land is never very interesting. To tie yourself to these lines will inhibit you when imagining all the possibilities.

Using Shapes To Inspire Your Design

Try this instead – Ignore the property lines and rather, use varied shapes laid together into something that appeals to you. You can draw them or even cut out some shapes from paper and play with them in collage-like fashion until you get something that you like. Use this as your inspiration. Once you have something appealing, reimagine how you might move through the shapes. Imagine how the shapes might manifest into planting areas, open space, paths, patios, positive and negative areas. These become your key elements and once placed in the garden, then fill in the edges (usually with plants). Planting beds and plants can be deep or narrow and are property line shape shifters.

Garden design basics - using shapes to create interest in the garden

Try it and see that fences and property lines will disappear. The space will be reorganized around features and will take on a new character. Your garden can avoid the ‘foundation planting’ look and you can inject creativity and interest.

This beautiful modern water garden, by Anthony Paul, illustrates the point of using positive and negative shapes. Don’t you think?

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.

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