Garden Design Basics: Play with Scale

It is not often that a perfect picture crosses my desk that so precisely shows how, by playing with the basics of design, you can create something extraordinary.

Take a look:
Garden Design Basics - Play with Scale image of Sakonnet Garden Azaleas

Playing with Scale:

Those rhododendrons look huge and I want nothing more than to sit amongst them in one of those tiny chairs. The invitation to feel diminutive amongst such wondrously large blooming shrubs is almost too much. If I were five years old, I would run there, spin around and flop down on the ground while completely ignoring my mother’s cries to stay in sight.
But here is the funny thing about this picture. I’m not sure if those chairs are full sized adult chairs, rather, are they smaller kid sized chairs?  If so, the change in scale makes the shrubs look even larger.  Or perhaps the plants are so large the chairs seem really small, even though they are normal sized.  Either option is fun to imagine.

And this is the point of illustration.

Scale in design is one of many things that can be tweaked to create something a little more surprising and interesting.

I suspect those chairs are kid sized.  The Rhododendrons look pretty great no matter what the chair size – but by playing with the scale of the small pink chairs, suddenly makes the design comes alive in a whole new way.

Can you think of other ways that you can play with scale to make some thing more interesting?


Image by sakonnetgarden.  Sakonnet Garden in Little Compton, Rhode Island is occasionally open to visitors.

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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.


  1. Matt on June 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    I can think of paving stones. The majority of the big box ones are small, and when pieced together they kinda run into each other and the shape of each stone gets lost. Larger paving stones make for a more dramatic effect, the design is more apparent, and the individual shape of each stone is more noticeable.

    • rochelle on June 7, 2012 at 5:34 pm

      Totally agree Matt!

  2. Jessica on June 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Wow, Floriferous! What about a garden of giant herbaceous perennials like Cephalaria gigantea and Cardiocrinum giganteum? Like Alice in wonderland.

    • rochelle on June 11, 2012 at 6:31 am

      Jessica – I love that idea…someone once told me about a garden designed with that very idea (in the south of England somewhere) — but I can’t remember who or where it was…on a forever search for that. Giant plants everywhere to make you feel small…totally fun.