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12 Principles of Design

These universal principles have become the set of tools I use to create gardens that embody all the key elements of the world's greatest landscapes but are scaled to each individual's site, taste and budget. When woven into the plan of the garden, they are unifying components that magically transform the space into a place of enchantment and beauty.

For many of us, design of any kind is a daunting subject; it frightens us because we are afraid of making a mistake. In Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, the author's brother, who has put off completing a school report on birds until the last minute, is paralyzed by fear as he stares at the blank sheet of paper before him. Feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, he is uncertain how to begin. The solution comes in some simple advice offered by his father. "Bird-by-bird, Buddy. Just take it bird-by-bird."

In that same spirit, my twelve principles of design are a "bird-by-bird" method of tackling the project of designing a garden.

These principles divide naturally into two main categories. The first six focus on building the framework or bones of the garden.

Enclosure - A garden room defined by borders of various materials.


Shape and Form - The contour and three-dimensional qualities of individual plants or groups of plants in the garden, as well as the outline of a garden room itself.


Framing the View - Directing attention to an object or view by screening out surrounding distractions while creating a visually balanced and organized composition.


Entry - A defined point of entrance into a garden enclosure.

Focal Point - Positioning an object to draw the eye and to create a feature of attention.


Structures - A variety of constructed features within the garden.


The second six principles add decorative or finishing touches to your garden as well as personality, charm and - last but not least - fun.

Color - Orchestrating the color palette in the garden through the selection and arrangement of plants and objects.


Texture, Pattern and Rhythm - Using surface characteristics, recognizable motifs, and the cadence created by the spacing of objects as elements of design.


Abundance - An ample to overflowing quality created by the generous use of plants and materials.


Whimsy - Elements of lighthearted fancy.


Mystery - Piquing a sense of curiosity, excitement and occasionally apprehension through the garden's design.


Time - Various garden styles representing certain ages of design.