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The 5 elements of landscape design

There are 5 fundamental design elements to landscape design. These principles are the building blocks to success in landscape architecture, they lay the foundation to building your elements. These elements are not independent and in fact act together as interactions to create the big picture. Since landscape design is an imposing study, here we break it down to the 5 fundamentals to get you started.

The below five elements are used as tools in combination to enhance the beauty of a garden.

They are:

  • Colour
  • Line
  • Form
  • Texture

These seemingly abstract terms may be perplexing to you. They may make you wonder how they can guide something so tangible, like your backyard. Let these act as guidelines towards your landscape.


Colour is a simple and essential element in our day-to-day lives, whereas in Landscaping it is so very complex. Colour has the tendency to express a specific taste of a person or designer. Warm colours like reds, oranges and yellows tend to advance towards the viewer whilst cooler tones like blues, violets and greens tend to recede into the background. Warm colours make an impact on the eye faster than cool colours. Warm and cool colour combinations have different visual impacts on landscape.

Colour is an important design consideration for both softscape and hardscape. The colour of the foliage and inflorescence creates a mood. So the composition of colour must be taken into context along with the seasons at various levels and presented to form a harmonious design. So when attempting to create a sequence of harmony through colour, details of plant species such as flower, fruit, leaf changes and seasons must be taken into consideration along with the principles of colour.

The 5 elements of landscape design


Lines can be actual (real) or implied (perceived). Lines are related to the eye’s movement or flow. They can be created vertically, horizontally or curvilinearly. Lines are vertically created based on the height of the species or trees, shrubs or groundcover in the landscape arrangement. Horizontal lines and curvilinear ones are created based on the plan of the landscape. So the arrangement and sequence of the plants are dictated by the lines used in the creation of the landscape design.

Perceived lines are formed based on a series to make it seem like a line is implied. After the arrangement of plants, the habit of the species can dictate implied lines in design. The concept of lines and their creation depends on the purpose of the design. Whether it is as simple as walkways or as individualistic as herb garden designs, lines are fundamental elements that guide your design.

The 5 elements of landscape design


Form is closely related to line. Line is formed with the outline of or edge of the plant material or objects in a design whereas form is more encompassing. Form refers to the shape of a plant. Form comes into play while placing plants based on their habit which could be linear, upright, spreading, drooping, etc. Plants can very well change their appearance based on whether they are grouped or planted individually.

Form is associated with three dimensional objects like trees and shrubs. Hence, design composition when viewed as a whole can be made up of grouped or individual forms of various plant species to lend to the way your design turns out.

The 5 elements of landscape design


Scale is all about relativity. Scale refers to the size of an object or objects in relation to the surroundings. Since it is so relative, it’s all about “does this look right?” Scale and proportion are to be seen in context.

The plants in the landscape design should have a sense of size or individual components in relation to groups. Understand that the size of the trees and shrubs should complement the structure you are surrounding them with. For example, a five foot wall wouldn't look right next to a mansion. The frame should fit the picture. Conforming to a sense of scale and proportion in turn can create a unity and harmony in the design. Instead of abrupt changes in height and size, there would be a gradual transition which creates a harmonious coexistence with the structure and landscape.

The 5 elements of landscape design


Texture is a subtle but important element of landscape design. The coarseness or fineness of a leaf or the texture on a bark, or even the heaviness of the foliage all plays a part in the overall look of the design. The texture of plants differs between leaves, twigs, branches, bark and even flowers. Contrasting textures add interest to a landscape and play an important role.

Visually the shape and surface of the leaves of the plants tend to lend the difference in texture. So if we divide texture into coarse, medium and fine, the landscape design should use texture to strive to achieve a balance of all three types in the various spaces. When placing a coarse leaved tree, balance it by placing a medium bark or leaved tree or shrub to create a gentle transition on the eye of the viewer. Or play it up with contrasting texture. Refrain from sticking to the same type which can lead to a rather dull looking result.

The 5 elements of landscape design

The object of utilising all the elements of landscape is to create a visual attraction. This will direct the eye of the viewer in the most conducive manner to appreciate your home and landscape together. For instance, take a look at your current landscape and see if it makes the most of your lands’ potential. Visual attraction is based on Colour, Line, Form, Scale and Texture in landscape.

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Image source:

Ar. Mrudula Reddy

“Master of Landscape Architecture