Arrangement is essential to implementing a garden style. The following core concepts will provide you with the building blocks for arranging beautiful gardens and landscapes.

Beds and Borders
Garden beds frame your garden

Beds and borders frame your garden by defining its size and shape. When creating natural gardens (i.e. woodland gardens or desert gardens) you may not want to use them; just let the plants fit the landforms. Beds and borders are more effective around a house or other large structure since they help relate your landscape to it. There are two types of beds, freeform and geometric. As you might expect, the former is more informal and the latter is formal. Below are some tips for both.


Keep lines simple and avoid too many changes in direction. Also, keep lines sharp—good edging creates a strong visual impression.

keep lines sharp — good edging creates a strong visual impression

You may want to use curves when creating garden beds or borders. Curves can have a powerful effect when used properly because they help your site stand out. Here are some points to remember:

1. Let curves fit the terrain—the terrain may lend itself toward a particular curve; try to identify that curve and exploit it.

Let curves fit terrain

2. Keep curves simple—too many curves (especially wavy curves) can create a mess that is hard on the viewer.
3. Keep curves subtle and smooth—abrupt curves are less effective visually than smooth curves.
4. Use a hose to determine which curves you like best.

Using a garden hose to make curves



When you plant a single plant which is large enough to stand alone and not get lost in the background you are specimen planting. You can specimen plant to highlight plants, either by themselves or in a mixed planting (such as in a perennial garden). Plants chosen for specimen planting usually have characteristics that help them stand out nicely.

Specimen planting

For grouping, plant with either a uniform or staggered layout (diagram). Grouping highlights plants that when planted alone are not big enough to stand out. Unlike massing, however, a group highlights the individual plants as well. Arrange it so there is a delicate balance between the plant shape and the shape of the overall group.

Informal and formal plant arrangements


Grouping – delicate balance between plant shape and shape of overall group

Massing allows you to highlight a particular area of your property. It lends itself toward simplicity and is very effective when used with plants that by themselves or in small groups would become lost in the background. Massing helps bring large sites into scale as well, since a massed group seen from a distance can help fill a void on your garden ‘canvas’.


When massing the individual plant yields to the overall shape of the mass. Thus it is the shape of the whole planting that you emphasize.


Massing – individual plants
Massing – yield to shape of the overall mass

Tip: Triangular plant arrangements can unify a garden very effectively. Use three plants that will stand out a bit from the rest of the planting and arrange them in a triangular pattern. Any triangle will do; the closer the arrangement is to an isosceles triangle, the more formal the arrangement will be.

Triangle planting


Texture refers to the visual ‘feel’ of a plant. You can take advantage of differently-textured plants to create contrasts, define a space, or set a theme for your garden.

Texture refers to ‘visual feel’ of a plant

Small-leafed or needled plants are considered fine textured; they have a soft appearance and appear blurry when viewed from afar. The fine texture helps create a sense of space.

Small-leafed or needled plants are fine textured

Large-leafed plants have a coarse texture. These usually stand out when viewed from afar, and they tend to make spaces look smaller.

Large-leafed plants have coarse texture



Color can be used for a few important purposes. It creates a sense of space, it can help you create themes, and in general it makes a garden psychologically uplifting. It’s good to use colors as a guideline in design but don’t worry about it too much—it’s very hard to wreck a garden with improper color use. In fact, it’s hard to know just what would constitute improper color use!

Color can make a garden psychologically uplifting

Neutral Colors

Transitional colors which enhance your dominant colors: White helps tie lighter shades together, although it can also create strong contrasts between darker colors. White effectively brightens some shady areas, also.

White ties lighter shades together and creates contrasts between darker colors
White helps brighten shady areas

Gray and silver foliage makes an excellent transition between different shades of green foliage.

Gray and silver foliage makes an excellent transition between green foliage

Warm Colors

Approaching colors. They jump out and welcome you: reds, oranges, and yellows.

Warm colors – Approaching colors

Cool Colors

Receding colors. They pull away and leave you with a soft sense of space: blues, purples, and greens.

Cool colors – Receding colors

Color Schemes

Monochromatic: Using a single color and its various shades.

Monochromatic color scheme

Polychromatic: Using different colors for contrast and balance.

Polychromatic color scheme

Analogous Colors: Blending only warm or cool colors and their various shades together.

Color Contrasts/Complementary Colors: Mixing cool colors with warm colors. Experiment with various contrasts and you will be pleasantly surprised with the result.

Color Contrasts – Complementary Colors

Color isn’t just about flowers

Most of the time you’ll be looking at the foliage and bark of a non-blooming plant, so be sure to consider the whole plant and not just the blooms. Incidentally, the foliage and bark color along with the shape and texture of the plant can be put to very effective use when designing. Subtle contrasts in all of these factors can have a powerful impact on your garden.

Foliage texture and color contrasts
Color isn’t just about flowers
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