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How to Balance an Asymmetrical Landscape (with Illustrations)

Balance in landscape design

The easiest way to achieve balance in your landscape is to just plant the same stuff on both sides. But, when designing a layered landscape, you may not want your garden beds to exactly mirror themselves from side to side. A lot of beginner gardeners struggle with the concept of balance and how to make their landscapes look right.

If you want to take your landscape design up a notch, you need to have a basic understanding of plant mass and how it relates to the visual weight of your landscape. Don’t worry, creating a balanced and diverse garden is not as difficult as you think! It’s all about understanding what makes up the visual weight of your plants. Once you know this, you’ll be able to balance just about anything!

What does an unbalanced landscape look like?

Before I dive too deep into this, I wanted to provide you an example of what it may look like when your landscaping isn’t quite balanced.

It’s usually just a nagging feeling for a gardener. You know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it. A lot of times, unbalanced landscapes aren’t terrible looking. But, the lack is what’s making the landscape feel mediocre instead of extraordinary.

This is a pretty typical example of the average home foundation planting. It looks ok and there’s some variety in the plantings, but it’s very unbalanced. Something just feels “off”… doesn’t it?

Example of an unbalanced landscape
Example of an unbalanced landscape.

Let’s figure out why and how we can fix it.

Diagnosing Landscape Balance Issues (Before)

  • The hedge row to the right of the walkway is way too large for the space. It’s also not balanced with the much smaller plants to the right of the walkway.
  • The garden bed on the right side of the walkway also feels much heavier than the planting on the left side of the home. This is because the shrub to the left of the home is deciduous and loses its leaves in the winter, creating balance issues.
  • There is no planting to the right side of the home, leaving it feeling unbalanced with the shrubs to the left of the home.
  • The shrubs on the left side of the foundation are blocking light to the lower windows.

Resolving Landscape Balance Issues (After)

So, how do you actually fix these balance issues? Here’s what I would do:

  • Remove the oversized shrub to the right of the walkway and replant the left and right side of the walkway with more balanced plants.
  • The balance issue between the left side of the house and the walkway area was also resolved by removing the oversized walkway hedge.
  • Create a more substantial planting to the left of the home. Then, create a substantial planting bed to the right side of the driveway. Trees and shrubs on the right side of the driveway can be slightly larger because the elevation is lower.
  • Update the foundation planting under the left side windows so that the shrubs and plants do not block the windows.
  • Bonus: Incorporate color and focal points within the garden beds to guide a visitor up the steps and to the front door.

Here’s a before & after illustration of my balance fixes. Which do you like better?

Unbalanced landscape illustration - before
Here’s how it looks before, with balance issues. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.
Balanced landscape illustration - after
Here’s how it looks after, with better balance, color and focal points. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Now that you have some real world examples of unbalanced landscape, let’s learn more about how we can diagnose and fix our own landscape balance problems. Or, better yet, make sure that we don’t create a balance problem in the first place!

Balance is directly related to a plant’s visual “weight”

A plant’s visual weight is basically how big of a presence the plant has in your garden. Visual weight is made up of mainly three different elements; mass, color and density.

How plant mass affects balance

A plant’s mass is determined by its overall size; how much space it takes up in your garden; how wide and tall it is. This is really straightforward so lets not overthink it. A big plant demands attention and visually moves forward in a garden. The opposite is also true. A smaller plant will blend in with surroundings and recede into the background of your garden.

drawing of a tall conical tree that equals the mass of 3 smaller shrubs
A plant’s mass is determined by its overall size; how much space it takes up in your garden; how wide and tall it is. Because of this, a group of smaller shrubs can balance the mass of a taller tree of the same color and branching density. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

If you want to balance out your landscape, you can simply choose equal sized plants for either side. But it doesn’t have to be this predictable. Three smaller shrubs can also balance a larger tree, as in the example above.

How plant color affects balance

Plant color also plays a big role in balance. Even if your plants are the same size (or mass), they may not have the same visual weight. Certain colors carry more weight than others. As a rule of thumb, darker colors feel heavier than lighter colors.

Darker colors have a heavier visual weight than lighter colors

A dark green yew has a heavier weight than a blue juniper of the exact same size because color plays a role in plant weight. To balance this, you may need to add multiple junipers to balance out the heavier weight of the yew.

Quick Tip: Interested in learning more about color? You’ll want to read my post about creating gorgeous color schemes in your garden.

How plant density affects balance

The density of a plant can also affect balance in your landscape. Density is how “full” a tree or shrub is.

Some shrubs have sparse, wispy foliage. Other plants are really full and you can barely see through them. Some plants have tons of branches all mixed up and crossing over each other. Other plants have more open and loose branching structures. Obviously, the thicker the foliage and branching, the more density the plant has.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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That’s why you can’t balance a dense plant with an open and airy one.

Plant density is important in determining plant mass

The Colorado blue spruce (dense branches and dense needle texture) has a heavier weight than the Eastern white pine (open branches and open needle texture). Even if the spruce and the pine are the same size AND the same color, the spruce would carry a heavier weight because because of the branching density.

Quick Tip: The density of a plant is often a side-effect of a its overall texture. Learn more about using plant textures to make your garden exciting!

Free Gift: 10 Proven Plant Combinations to Try in Your Own Garden

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The importance of balancing plant weight

The examples above are meant to show you that balance is not just about the size of the plants. That’s definitely one part of it. But, balance is also affected by the color and density, too!

A plant’s weight becomes most important in the winter months when many of your plants will lose their leaves and, thus, their overall weight. The example used at the beginning of the article is the perfect example of why this happens.

Evergreen trees and shrubs carry a garden’s structure throughout the winter because they remain solid and commanding. Large, dark-colored and dense evergreens will stand out and form the major “structure” elements of your winter landscape.

Think about your own landscape in the winter. Do you have all of your evergreens planted in one area? It may feel really out of balance when the foliage of your other trees and shrubs have dropped.

Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical Balance

Creating symmetrical balance in your garden design
Creating symmetrical balance in your garden design means you are mirroring your plantings from one side to the other. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Symmetrical balance in garden design: Mirroring your plants to achieve balance

There are two different ways to balance plants in your landscape using plant weight.

The first is symmetrical balance. Basically, repeating the same plants on either side of a path, bench or focal points creates a pleasing effect. That’s because, without even knowing it, you’re balancing the weights of the plants.

Achieving asymmetrical balance in your garden design
When creating asymmetrical balance in your garden, the plants on one side of the garden must equal the weight of the plants on the other side of the garden. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Asymmetrical balance in garden design: Understanding the visual weight of your plants

The second way to design your garden is to achieve asymmetrical balance in your plantings.

This is where your newfound knowledge comes in handy. When creating your mixed border, all you need to do is balance the weight of each side of your landscape. Asymmetrical planting schemes create more variety and interest in your landscape because it won’t feel so predictable.

When creating asymmetrical balance in your garden, pretend that you’re putting your plants on a teeter totter. You want to ensure that the plants on one side of the garden equal the weight of the plants on the other side of the garden.

Remember, the number of plants and their shapes aren’t as important as the total visual weight of the planting. They need to balance each other out. Use the principles of mass, color and density to figure out the overall plant mass of each grouping.

Asymmetrical Balance in Lanscape Design
Here’s another example of asymmetrical balance in garden design. The weight of the 3 cone-shaped evergreens balance out the weight of this large multi-stemmed shrub on the right. The weight of the purple spiky plant on the left balances the weight of the purple mounded shrub to the right. Nothing feels out of sync even thought different plants are used. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Quick Tip: If you like this post, you’re going to love learning about creating an effective landscape using the layered planting techniques I share in this post.

Balance creates rhythm in the garden

You can use visual weight to your advantage by planting groups of heavyweight and lightweight plants throughout your landscape. This will create a rhythmic pattern, visual excitement and flow in your garden.

A person’s eyes will naturally bounce to from drifts of heavy and light plantings because they contrast one another. It’s a really fun way to create visual interest in your garden without using a single blooming flower!

Wrapping Up

If you wondered if your landscaping needs to be symmetrical in order to work, you now know that it doesn’t have to by. Using asymmetrical balance you can expand the types of plants that you use in your garden without making it feel lopsided and unprofessional.

Plant weight is determined by many factors including the size, color and branching density of your trees, shrubs and other plants.

Symmetrical balance just means that you mirror plants from one side of the garden to the other. Asymmetrical balance is when you determine the overall weight of the plants based on the size, color and branching density. Then, match the weight of each plant grouping on either side of a central point.

Grouping plants by their weight into drifts is great way to create interest and rhythm throughout your garden.

If you enjoyed this article, head over to my complete guide to garden design for non-designers for more helpful tips for creating your dream landscape. Or check out one of my online courses where you can learn how to design your garden with me!

More Garden Design Posts You’ll Love

3 Rules for Balancing Plants in the Landscape
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What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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