The Basic Elements of Landscape Design

Defining your landscape project and identifying the right team to help you design, install, and maintain it is easier if you’re familiar with the basics of landscape design. In essence, landscape design combines horticultural science, artful composition, and spatial organization to create attractive and functional spaces outdoors. It uses the elements and principles of design to define spaces, connect them, and make them attractive. Understanding these elements is a good place to start.


This design element creates forms, establishes dominance, and controls the movement of the eye and body. Landscape designers use lines to create an infinite variety of shapes and patterns or manipulate perceived depth and distance to develop spaces with cohesive themes. In landscapes, lines are created by edges between materials, outlines or silhouettes of a form, or linear features. Bedlines, hardscape lines, path lines, sod lines, and fence lines are all great examples of this element at work.


This design element refers to the three-dimensional space that a shape inhabits. Structures, plants, and gardens all represent formal and informal forms such as circles, squares, or organic edges, but so do the voids between them. That’s why form is the most influential element when determining spatial organization and overall style.


This design element refers to the coarse or fine qualities of surfaces whether plant foliage, flowers, bark, and branching patterns, or facades, patios, and walkways. Coarse textures tend to dominate colour and form thus they are used to attract the eye, while fine textures are used to unify compositions. The contrasts created by coarse textures help landscape designers build interest while fine textures help exaggerate distance, creating the feeling of a more open space.


This design element is what gives landscapes a palpable dimension. Guided by colour theory, landscape colour themes shape our perspective. Warm tones will make objects seem closer while cool tones will make them feel farther away. Landscape designers use color theory to determine which colour schemes fit best and how colours should be arranged. The basic color schemes are monochromatic, analogous, and complementary.

Visual Weight

This design element is the idea that mass and contrast make certain feature combinations more or less important in the composition. In other words, a group of bright or large plants carries more visual weight than the horizontal lines, fine textures, or subdued colours that fade into the background. Neither high nor low visual weight is better than the other. High visual weight is memorable while low visual weight builds cohesion and provides a resting place for the eye.

With a basic understanding of these elements of design, the next step is to understand the principles of design. Once you’re ready define your landscape style, develop a sense of place, design a project specific to your site conditions, and locate landscape features, remember to contact Universal Landscaping. Their team of experts is more than happy to help.