This is the third in a series of six posts about the principles of good landscape design. To read my overview of the five basic principles of landscape design, click here. To learn more the principle of Unity in landscape design, click here.
The next principle of landscape design I would like to discuss is Balance. When we say a garden has a good sense of balance, what we are saying is that the visual weight of the individual elements of the garden work together – one element does not overwhelm another.
Everything in the garden has a certain visual weight, including trees, shrubs, perennials, pergolas, decks, birdbaths and even your home. Color, texture and size are all components of visual weight. Dark things look heavier than light ones, coarsely textured plants appear bulkier than finely textured plants and large things appear heavier than small things. Color, texture and size must all be considered when deciding where to place individual elements in a designed garden.
A tree with dark leaves, like this Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ will look bulkier than a similarly sized maple with green leaves, such as Acer pensylvanicum. And a perennial with a fine texture such as Amsonia hubrichtii (Blue Star) will look lighter and airier in your garden than a coarsely textured perennial like Hollyhock (Althaeca).
There are two kinds of balance – symmetrical and asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance is easy to recognize and is often associated with formal gardens. In essence, one side of a design is the exact mirror image of the other. Symmetrical balance is safe and almost effortless but it can be a bit boring. A good example of symmetrical balance is an urn with a boxwood topiary placed on either side of a front door.
Asymmetrical balance is when objects that are different from one another are balanced because they have similar visual weights. This type of balance is harder to achieve but it is far more interesting than symmetrical balance. Both informal and formal gardens can take advantage of asymmetrical balance. For example, a tall upright shrub can be balanced by a nearby group of shrubs and perennials that is lower and broader. Or a large oak on one side of the garden can be balanced by a grouping of three smaller trees, such as dogwoods. In this photo, the visual weight of the pergola is balanced by the red-leaf maple and also the tall ornamental grass.
Admittedly, balance can be a tough concept to achieve, whether you’re gardening here in Stamford, CT or half way around the world. For some reason it always seems easier to recognize something that is out of balance rather than something that is asymmetrically balanced. Remember, garden design is a process, so if you don’t get it right the first time keep experimenting. That’s half the fun of it!