Top 7 Basic Landscape Design Principles

Top 7 Basic Landscape Design Principles

Updated on 12th January 2022


Do you have some landscaping ideas? And you want your yard to look stunning and need some advice on how to landscape a garden? Then these 7 simple landscape design principles are perfect for you to follow. Most people might think to themselves that design should not follow any rules. However, it is exactly the opposite. Following specific principles when applying your creativity with your garden, leads up to astonishing results. And, we all want the grass on our side to be greener, right? Let’s look at a few simple rules that would make all the change for your future garden.

1. Apply the “Law” of Significant Enclosure

Garden with green grass and bushes surrounded by a stone fence.

“Redi Rock Cobblestone Gravity Housing Development” by Redi-Rock International is licensed under CC BY 2.0,

The etymology of the word garden comes from ‘enclosure’. Meaning that in your garden you should be able to feel close to nature, even though your house is most probably in a town full of concrete buildings. Your yard can turn into a small enclosed escape from the world, bringing your closer to the great wild outdoors. In order to create this feeling, it is essential to follow the law of significant enclosure. It states that the vertical edge of a space should be at least one-third the length of the total horizontal length of that space. By applying this principle, you would be able to create the sense of a true nature enclosure and openness at the same time in your own garden.        

2. Guide Yourself by the Regulating Line  

House garden with pool, chairs, plants and stone stairs and fence.

“Redi Rock Cobblestone Hybrid Residential” by Redi-Rock International is licensed under CC BY 2.0,

The regulating line concepts asserts that an imaginary line can be drawn between any element of architecture and landscaping feature. This principle helps connecting and organising the components in your garden. It creates a sense of unity and cohesiveness, so everything looks as it belongs there. For instance, while planning your garden, you should project the lines of your building into the garden. Then, align the wooden walkways or swimming pool with those lines. The architect and theoretician Le Corbusier once wrote “A regulating line, is an assurance against capriciousness…It confers on the work the quality of rhythm…The choice of a regulating line fixes the fundamental geometry of the work….” This touches on two slightly paradoxical features. First, this principle lies on the fundamental order. Even though a garden is a natural and wild part of your home, it should follow strong rules. Second, applying regulating lines is subjective and a landscaping designer can use a lot of creativity. It does sound contradictory, right? However, finding the fine line between the rules and the creative process, would separate you as a professional designer next to an amateur one.

3. Remember the Golden Rectangle and Golden Ratio to Get the Proportions Precise   

Math is applicable in anything we do, including landscape design. The Golden Rectangle and Golden Ratio can be observed almost anywhere in nature as well as in architecture.

Golden Rectangle in Landscaping

You might remember this rule from high school. If not, we are here to help. The Golden Rectangle states that ratio of the short side to the long side of the rectangle is equal to the ratio of the long side to the sum of both sides (a/b = b/a+b). It sounds a little confusing when you first read it, but we promise you it is extremely helpful when creating your landscape plan. If you are laying out terraces, patios, arbors, lawns, etc., you can use the Golden Rectangle ratio which numerically is closed to 1: 1.6.

Golden Ratio in Landscaping

Three cases of flowers ready to be planted in the garden.

“Spring Work II” by Derya is licensed under CC BY 2.0,

You can apply the Golden ratio especially when planting flowers in your garden. You probably have heard of the Fibonacci sequence which is an aspect of the Golden ratio. It goes like this 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8… Planting flowers in groups of 3, 5 and 8, for example, would create a relaxing and visually appealing environment. Not coincidentally, in garden catalogues and stores they package the flowers in groups of 3,5, 8 and so on.

4. When Designing Steps, Follow Thomas D. Church’s Rule.

Beautiful garden with pink roses and stairs.

“Roses” by Shelby L. Bell is licensed under CC BY 2.0,

Stairs and decking help create a different mood in your garden. They can be designed in different manners – elegant, symmetrical, curving, minimalistic, etc. Stairs form a focal point, suggest movements and help unfolding different perspectives of the garden. Therefore, it is challenging to implement all of your garden landscape ideas but there are some rules that can help you.

If you want to put steps in your garden landscape design, you would want to follow Thomas D. Church’s ratio. He was a prominent and novel landscape architect in 20th century based in California. He is most known for being a pioneer in landscape design of Modernism and creating the ‘California Style.’ In his work Gardens Are for People he states that twice the height of the riser plus the tread should equal 26 inches (66.04 cm). The riser is the vertical area of the stair and the tread is the horizontal one that people step on. For example, if the riser is 7 inches, the tread should be 12 inches. Another helpful principle is that the number of steps is usually calculated to be the change of level in the garden divided by 15 cm.

5. Start Planting Big to Small

Beautiful garden organized by the size of the trees, bushes and plants.

“In my garden in May 2014” by Ronalds Saunders is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0,

After you have laid down your landscaping plan, it is time to think about planting your plants. Those are the elements that would turn your yard into an actual garden. Smart planting is the pinnacle of a garden. You should start with planting trees, then shrubs, then perennials, and finally ground cover. This principle is important in terms of composition but also practicality. Being able to see the bigger forms first gives a better understanding of the overall landscape. And on the other side, planting a tree usually require machinery or several gardeners that would need plenty of space to move and work on the soil. If there are smaller plants already planted, they would be damaged. Resisting to plant your newly bought flower seeds might seem hard at first. However, if you want to save time and money and have a beautiful garden, you should be patient.

6. Use Repetition

Unity of design and recurrence of elements are basic fundamental concepts of composition in landscaping. Just the right amount of familiar sequences, colours and patterns would make a wonderful unified garden layout. And while your garden needs a bit of diversity to stand out, finding the balance through repetition is key to a breathtaking landscape design. 


There are three repetitive landscape principles you could choose to follow:

  • Subtle repetition
  • Gradation
  • Alternation

Subsequent use of the same garden element over and over can make the garden area look monotonous. That’s why the subtle repetition landscape principle stands for the repetition of colours, patterns, materials, shapes and textures, rather than recurring features. 

The second landscape design principle in repetition is alternation. Alternation means a subtle break in the garden sequence by incorporating the same minor element in a few places in the garden. That will create a mini pattern within the main landscape pattern. 

Gradation is another great way to introduce repetition in landscape design. Take the same garden elements you have in your garden and make them gradually change colour, size, height, level or shape. 

7. Eliminate the Unnecessary Elements

When it comes to landscape design, simplicity is considered better than overdoing. After all, non-essential elements could ruin your landscaping efforts by making your outdoor space look a bit chaotic. 


In order to fully grasp the concept of simplicity, start by eliminating unnecessary components from your garden. Some of the features your garden would be better without include having too many plant species in random colours, using odd combinations of materials, unfitting garden furniture, overcrowding the outdoor area, and more. Be careful with garden combinations to avoid a confusing and distasteful landscape design.

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