One aspect of gardening that many of us have trouble with is applying the elements of design to our landscaping and garden design, especially when the design isn’t planned as a whole. This can lead to a variety of problems, such as jarring color combinations or distractingly busy gardens. One of the most common problems I see in garden designs is that they just turn out a little boring. A great way to fix this is to break up the uniformity and add a little contrast, and here are a few design ideas to help you do that.
The easiest way to add contrast to your landscape is color. One way is to contrast light and dark colors. Adding a plant with deep red or very dark green foliage to a brightly-colored garden can make a huge difference. Try deep purple or red flowers for a garden with mostly pastels. In a garden that tends toward dark foliage, a few bright accent flowers or plants, or even a white sculpture, fence, or flagstones can be exactly what you need. This is very common in Japanese garden designs, where a dark, carefully pruned tree against a white wall can be a stunning thing. The other way to create contrast with color is to go to the other side of the color wheel. Use red accents to contrast with greens, or a few blue flowers in a garden of reds and oranges. This is a method often used in cottage and English garden designs, where the profusion of flowers often calls for colors as the main method of creating contrast. It is also used very effectively in many tulip beds, where so many similar flowers at a similar, orderly height can create a sea of color that is beautiful when broken up with a few carefully placed contrasting flowers.
Another great source of contrast is form. This can mean contrasting form on a small scale, from plant to plant, or on the larger scale of the entire garden. When I see a landscape with many low, wide hedges or stout bushes, I’ll often suggest the addition of a few tall, thin trees as accents. In a bed of very round forms, such as shrubs or round flowers, a few spear-shaped plants can break up the uniformity very well. On the larger scale, contrasting entire design forms can work very well. In a formal garden, the even, squared beds can be quite boring. Using a more organic, informal planting style within those geometric beds can make a huge difference, and can be a very beautiful method of creating interest. Interest can also be created using plant forms that are very different from those of the beds. In very round or informal beds, use a few hedges or bushes pruned to be precisely square or rectangular.
A more subtle way to add interest is by contrasting textures within the garden. On the smaller level, this can mean using smooth, glossy leaves with softer or even ruffled foliage. On the larger level, it is often easiest to contrast textures using the elements of your landscape that aren’t plants. A painted wall can be a very interesting smooth surface, but it can be even more interesting if it is broken up with carefully placed climbing plants. Using gravel or stone under a very textured shrub can be a very striking view. A smooth stone pathway through soft grass or mulched planting beds is a wonderful contrast.