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Balance in Landscape Design

by Dan Eskelson on May 2, 2012

Balance is necessary in the landscape to provide stability in the visual perception of the site; in other words, a harmonious or satisfying arrangement of the parts of the landscape is necessary for an attractive garden. Visual stability is achieved by understanding the visual "weight" of our landscape elements. For instance, dark colors appear heavier than light, and fine textured plants appear lighter than coarse.

Size and form also affect weight; a tall form needs to be balanced by another tall form, or by a horizontal element whose width is close to the height of the tall form. Distance between the two elements is also considered; a lighter form will balance a heavier form if placed far enough away (think of the teeter-totter).

When gauging balance, consider a central axis radiating from the viewpoint outward. Symmetrical balance occurs when the elements on both sides of the axis mirror each other; this form of balance is most common in formal gardens. The asymmetrical balance of informal design uses the various weights of materials to roughly equal each other - for example, one side of the axis may be composed of tall forms with the opposite side composed of a larger grouping of smaller forms.

Choices between symmetry and asymmetry are dictated by the site - a small city lot with a symmetrical structure will most likely look best with symmetrical balance, though larger yards will have room for asymmetrical balance. Country and woodland gardens are well suited to asymmetrical balance.

The origin, or viewpoint from which we determine balance, may be central to the entire landscape or specific to one area or bed; the primary viewpoints should be determined (i.e. from the street or public area and/or from a picture window). As with the other theoretical elements of landscape design, the growth of plant forms and seasonal changes of color and texture must also be considered when designing for balance.

By balancing the elements of our gardens we make the visual experience more peaceful and satisfying. There are no exact formulas for achieving perfect balance; often, the best plan is to draw or visualize the forms of our design, using the above criteria to determine the requirements for achieving balance.

Dan Eskelson @ Clearwater Landscapes, Inc.

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