Basic Principle of Landscaping Positioning
While landscaping is not rocket science it is an artform and as such needs to adhere to some basic principles. Those principles are:
- Unity – Easier said than done, but typically achieved by choosing elements that share or comment on each other’s characteristics.
- Simplicity – Simplicity does not mean 1 tree and 1 rock in the yard. It means that the underlying structure should be easy to intuitively pick up on.
- Balance – Whether achieved through symmetry or asymmetry proper balance should result in a final product that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
- Colour – Colour can be a major unifying force or it can be used to direct attention toward a specific area, or it can do both.
- Line – The quality of the lines you introduce into a landscape design will play a large part in determining its temperament. Straight lines for formal, meandering lines for informal.
- Proportion – Proportion is the driving force behind how we perceive elements in a landscape design. It also helps establish balance between elements.
- Repetition – A certain amount of repetition is necessary to establish a sense of unity. The most important thing is knowing when to say ‘enough’.
All of these elements must work in harmony if the landscaping architect is to be successful and that harmony is achieved in large part by proper positioning of the various components of the design. So in this guide we’re going to take a close look at the subject of landscape positioning. We’ll start by discussing how to determine the proper position of your new outdoor kitchen or other outdoor living space and then move on to particulars including the positioning of trees, boulders, water features and even a few tips on where to place your backyard sculptures.
Proper Landscape Positioning of Your Outdoor Living Area
Before we get into some of the finer points of placing trees and the like we need to talk a bit about placing what is likely to be the single biggest component of your backyard landscaping: the patio or outdoor kitchen. Arriving at the proper positioning of such a large landscape element requires finding that place and configuration that makes it seem as though the outdoor living space is a natural extension of the indoors. The driving principle here being that the transition between the 2 realms should never be jarring. Instead it should be seamless and logical. To achieve this degree of harmony we suggest you do the following 3 things:
- Study the actual transition point – Chances are the point at which the indoor/outdoor transition is going to take place will be dictated by the existing indoor kitchen. Therefore your challenge is not to reinvent that transition point but to find the proper orientation (i.e. the proper positioning) which will enable the outdoor elements to engage that point (and the house in general) in a logical and satisfying way. This orientation will, to a large extent, drive the layout of the outdoor living space.
- Avoid repetition – But isn’t repetition was one of the cornerstones of landscaping design? It is. However, as any landscaping designer will tell you the most important thing about repetition is knowing when to put the brakes on. This applies to the positioning or your outdoor kitchen elements in particular because you don’t want to be gazing out from the kitchen table directly at the table set for the outdoor kitchen. Too much repetition. Instead study the sightlines that emanate from indoors then shuffle around the components of your planned outdoor kitchen until each sightline will open onto something related but different.
- Make it big – The patio or outdoor kitchen is supposed to be a place where you and your guests can relax and soak in a fine summer’s evening. Not a place where you’re tripping over one another as you move about the table. Make sure you allow ample space between all elements of the outdoor kitchen in particular. But be mindful at the same time of proportion since you don’t want a 1,000 square foot outdoor kitchen attached to a 150 square foot indoor kitchen.
How Your Landscaping Designer Positions Trees
Unfortunately many trees planted in conjunction with DIY landscaping designs in Toronto die before their time. In fact the average life of trees introduced in this manner is typically a scant 8 years. This abbreviated lifespan can be attributed almost entirely to inappropriate positioning. Positioning is as important as the type of tree chosen when it comes to determining lifespan so here are a few things to consider when it comes to positioning trees in your backyard design.
- Never position trees randomly – This is a common mistake DIY landscapers make in an attempt to give their yard a “natural” look. It almost always backfires however because different trees have different needs when it comes to water and sunlight. Always read up on the requirements of the trees you plan to use before introducing them into your design.
- Consider the type of tree – You certainly don’t want to position a deciduous tree near the pool, unless the spectre of a leaf-clogged filter interests you. The same could be said for pine trees that shed needles and flowering trees. You also want to be careful before positioning a shade tree near your planned flower beds. Keep in mind too that your tree will attract our winged friends and you don’t want droppings on the dining table of your outdoor kitchen.
- Use trees as structural elements – Trees are best used in a well-considered design as architectural elements that introduce structure, define boundaries and organize space. There are a couple of ways to do this:
- The specimen tree – The specimen tree is positioned away from the rest of your flora and becomes a distinct landscape feature. Specimen trees are often flowering trees strategically positioned at the end of sightlines to create a focal point.
- The group planting – With a group planting several of the same type of tree are positioned together to create a landscaping feature. This may serve as a sightline, a windbreak of sorts or to delineate where one part of the property transitions to another.
- In addition – Trees are often positioned to either frame or mask a particular view. A pair of trees can be used to isolate an attractive vista with sightlines funnelling visual attention in that direction. If your intention is to create this type of focal point though, be sure not to distract from it by planting a specimen tree off to the side as it could draw attention away from the focal point.
Landscape Positioning Boulders
Boulders are another element the landscaping architect tends to favour but whose positioning must be carefully considered. There are a number of factors to keep in mind when placing landscape boulders, including:
- Size – The size is determined by the placement: or more precisely, the function the boulder is being asked to perform within the larger design. It’s crucial that the boulder be large enough to hold down the spot where it’s been positioned. One of the most common mistakes DIY landscapers make is to try and save money on transportation and placement by purchasing smaller boulders. When the boulder is then in position it winds up a proportional mismatch and simply looks odd instead of interesting.
- Its protective qualities – Boulders can be positioned in a way that they provide cover for delicate flora. Plants tend to grow near the edges of boulders in the wild for just this reason. Large stones also have a tendency to attract moisture to their underside which nearby plants can draw upon when rainfall is sparse. So positioning boulders of various size proximate to flower beds is not uncommon.
- Solo or part of a group? – You’ll almost never find boulders isolated in nature. They tend to be social in the sense that where there’s one there’s more. You should try and emulate nature with the boulders in your landscaping design by positioning them in proximity to one another. A water feature is an excellent way to do so. Or you could take a page out of Japanese garden design by positioning a large boulder amongst a constellation of smaller “helping” boulders.
Don’t forget! Before you even consider a particular boulder for your landscape design ask yourself if it will look right in your yard. It’s going to need to work with the stone of your patio or outdoor kitchen as well as the colours, shapes and textures of the house. If you have masonry retaining walls and you position a boulder near one of them it will need to meld with the colours and textures of the wall or provide some sort of design counterpoint.
Landscape Positioning of a Pond
Ponds and other water features are popular with homeowners whose lots are a bit bigger than average. Not that you won’t find them on small lots occasionally as well, but they tend to show up more often on large plots where there’s room for the landscaping architect to be playful. When it comes to ponds positioning is crucial. The pond needs to be in a position where it gets a fair amount of attention without distracting from other elements. If it’s positioned at the back of the property where no one ever goes it’s likely to fall into disrepair.
- Consider sightlines – When contemplating where to position your pond, waterfall or other water feature consider sightlines. You want it to be seen from the outdoor kitchen or patio but you don’t want it competing with other elements for attention. A water feature is a contemplative element and needs to be given its own space where it can be regarded in its entirety.
- Additional considerations when positioning your water feature – If you place your pond or other water feature directly under a deciduous tree you or someone else will spend long hours clearing leaves from it. If you position it in a low part of the yard chances are runoff from the yard will be a problem during heavy rains. Finally if you wish to have water plants and/or fish in your pond it will need to get several hours of sunlight per day.
Positioning Sculptures in the Landscape
Finally we come to an oft-overlooked element of landscape design; the sculpture. If you study pictures of ancient Roman villas you can see that, even 2,000 years ago, landscape designers gave a lot of thought to how they positioned sculptures in the landscape. Sculptures for them served political and religious purposes but also served the larger master of aesthetics. They were commonly used to frame doorways and create focal points in the landscape.
While you (probably) don’t have a Roman villa it’s still important that any yard sculptures serve an aesthetic purpose. Any sculptures in a garden should be modest in size and add a subtle element of visual surprise without overwhelming other elements. A sculpture in the middle of a pond can create a striking focal point but proper proportioning is the key to making it work. If you have a desire to go “full villa” you can position several sculptures around the perimeter of the patio, outdoor garden or pool deck. But as with all repetitious elements remember there is such a thing as “too much”.
Of course none of the elements discussed above exist in a vacuum and you’ll need to strike a balance between the different components in order to obtain a harmonious final product. It’s a lot to keep in mind, which only serves to highlight the difficulties even the best Toronto landscaping designer must routinely overcome.
Proper positioning of landscape elements is key to their aesthetic success. It only takes one or two incongruous elements to fatally undermine an otherwise outstanding landscaping effort so do yourself a favour and take the above tips to heart. ME Contracting has the GTA’s most experienced and talented landscaping team.