Landscaping Design Guidelines

You want to take your landscaping to the next level? Have a garden where visitors go “wow!” every time?

Read on, and learn what makes a garden great!

Unity to be at peace

If you want to feel at peace and relaxed in your yard or garden, unity is what you need. Essentially, you want a coherent design, where all elements work together. Of course there should be contrast, but mostly harmony. It’s hard to define a way to achieve this. But don’t just add stuff because it looks good on itself. Add elements that fit in nicely, or don’t add them at all.

Curves instead of lines

Your garden will have lines, unless it is complete chaos. This can be a walkway, the edge of a flower bed, retaining walls or other elements. To keep those lines natural, don’t make them straight. Use light curves instead. Irregular, round shapes. If you manage to make them flow into one another, even better!

Understand a tree’s form

This is taken directly from the Colorado State University’s Master Gardener Program, because it explains this really well:

  • Horizontal and spreading forms emphasis the lateral extent and breath of space. They are comfortable because it corresponds with the natural direction of eye movement.
  • Rounded forms are most common in plant materials. They allow for easy eye movement and create a pleasant undulation that leads itself to plant groupings.
  • Vase-shaped trees define a comfortable “people space” beneath the canopy.
  • Weeping forms lead the eye back to the ground. What is below the weeping form often becomes a focal point.
  • Pyramidal forms direct the eyes upward, so use sparingly. Grouping pyramidals will soften the upward influence. They will look more natural in the surroundings with foliage to the ground.

Tree shapes


Use colors – the right way

Of course, you can just sprinkle some flowers in some color in. But different colors and color combinations have different effects!

This graphic explains the different emtions connected to each color quite well:

color meanings

Simplicity and Variety

Now you know what kind of colors you want to use. But how do you use them?

It would be simple to just put up a flower bed and plant it full of, let’s say, tulips. They look nice. But also, way more boring than expected.

You have to add some variety! Add at least a different shade of whatever color you used. Or something close, like yellow with orange or brown.

Just making a “zipper” pattern is still boring, though – it just looks repetitive. (like a b a b a b a b)

Put up a group of one plant, and add some other next to it, around it, or even within.

Show some dominance!

While “perfect balance and harmony” might sound nice, just using 50/50 of everything is not the way to go. If you plant a bed of tulips and another flower, feel free to make one stand out! Like colorful, lively tulips with something more soft and calm. A big group of bright red tulips surrounded by some small groups of soft white tulips.

We are drawn to the dominant element. If there is none, we are not drawn to anything. That can be a good choice, or it can turn out boring. Just keep it in mind!

How to mix colors

First off: Don’t just add color everywhere. It’s like salt – without it, food might taste boring, but with too much, it’s disgusting.

As a rule of thumb, aim for about 75%-90% green and fill the rest with colors or other elements. Hardscapes like wood or stone decks count as green for this.

Color sequences
Color sequences, from the Master Gardener Program

Use the warm, bright, intense colors as a focal point. Then, add some cool colors as a contrast, or add some lighter shades in a sequence.

For a sequence, start with the “main” color, the most intense, the focal point. Then, decide how many shades you want to use. Don’t just add all kinds of shade, but go from dark to light. Like fiery red as focal point, with a soft orange and soft yellow as shades. Use more flowers for every shade you add. So for example, use 10 bright red tulips, about a third more orange tulips (13) and another third more yellow ones (16).

By using a sequence, you can create a natural, flowing design where the colors work together. It will feel lively and natural.


Color shades
Color shades

If you want to go for something more calm and relaxing, consider a two-color flowerbed. Using a cooler color, use two different shades of the same color. Mix it about 1:2, so about 30% of one color and 70% of the other.


How to pair flowers and plants

For a beautiful, coherent flowerbed, you can use almost identical plants, like differently colored tulips.

But for a more diverse field, use very different flowers, like tulips and hyacinths. Like white tulips with a few purple hyacinths – they would stand out strongly!

Here’s some ideas what you can mix:

  • Fine/Coarse
  • Round/Upright
  • Large/Small
  • Short/Tall
  • Colors

You can play with the texture of plants just like with colors. Especially with greens, like shrubs, you can create variety without even using another color!

Same with stones. use bigger stones in the middle, surrounded by smaller stones with small pebbles last. Or different shades of grey for soft color variety for stones.

How to use scale





If you look at this picture, the left house clearly looks bigger, right? You know it’s the same size, but it feels bigger.

If you have a deck to hang out on, surrounding it by trees will make it feel smaller than surrounding it by shrubs.

Making one element big makes all elements around it feel smaller. This can be very useful if used right!


If you follow these guidelines, or at least keep them in mind, I’m sure your yard or garden will turn out nicely! 


Many of these guidelines are inspired by the Colorado State University’s Master Gardener Program, summarized and simplyfied for