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Design Your Backyard Landscape in 6 Simple Steps

Design Your Backyard Landscape in 6 Simple Steps

Designing a backyard landscape can be a daunting task. Not only do you need to create separate areas and zones from a large space, you also need to consider hardscaping, plant, furniture and focal point choices to make. But, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. In this article, you’ll learn a step-by-step process that will help you turn your barren backyard into a beautiful, functional space begging for you to step outside and enjoy. 

Although some of these steps require some thought and effort, it really is a simple process that anyone can do at home. Whether you plan to DIY your backyard landscape or hire a professional, it’s useful to go through these steps to ensure that you get exactly what you want from your backyard landscape design project! 

Steps To Design Your Backyard

Here are the 6 simple steps to the backyard landscaping design process:

  1. Create a Wishlist
  2. Divide Your Space Into Rooms
  3. Connect Areas With Pathways
  4. Draw a Master Plan
  5. Add Focal Points and Personality
  6. Choose Plants & Features To Match Maintenance Priorities
Infographic for 6 Steps To Design Backyard Landscape
Whether you plan to DIY your backyard landscape or hire a professional, it’s useful to go through these steps to ensure that you get exactly what you want from your backyard landscape design project! Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Create a Wishlist

Creating a wishlist is probably a no-brainer, but I’m constantly surprised by the number of homeowners who skip this step. Whether you plan to design and implement your backyard landscape or hire a professional to do it for you, creating a wishlist is incredibly important. You are the only one that can determine what you and your family’s needs are, so taking the time to jot down your ideas is going to bring clarity to what you want and need.

Collect Inspiration Photos

You can always find inspiration online to get your ideas flowing. I love sites like Pinterest.com and Houzz.com for this very reason. Start by saving boards or folders images that speak to you and try to pinpoint why you’re attracted to each photo. Is it the level of privacy and seclusion? The colors? The mood? The features? The style of furniture or décor? There may be several reasons why you like a particular photo. Write them all down!

Brainstorm Ideas without Judgement

When brainstorming a wishlist of ideas, dream big and bold. Put down ANY idea that comes to mind and don’t censor yourself. Try not to think about how much space or money you have. Just write down anything that comes to mind. After all, if you don’t write it down, you’ll NEVER get it. So, why not throw it on the list! You may be surprised by how many of your wishlist items you’ll actually be able to incorporate into your final design.

Wishlist Item Examples

Design ideas can be large or small; specific or general. I know it may be confusing what types of things to put on your wishlist so here are a few items that could be on your wishlist:

  • Cooking Area
  • Dining Space
  • Relaxing Hangout Space
  • Modern Vibes
  • Purple Plants (click here for ideas)
  • Sunflowers
  • Vegetable Garden – with Eggplant!
  • Lilacs / plants with scent
  • Herbs for Cooking
  • Catio
  • Hottub or Pool
  • Hammock or Swing Chair
  • Water Feature (click here for ideas)
  • Sound Barrier for Noise
  • Fireplace / Firepit 
  • Covered Bar with TV
  • Kids Play Area
  • Lawn for Kids & Pets to Play
  • Fence for Kids & Pets to Play Safely
  • Lots of Privacy (click here for ideas)
  • Garbage / Recycling Center
  • Shed / Storage for Lawn Mower and Gardening Tools
  • Music / Speakers
  • Area To Entertain Guests
  • Compost / Utility Area
  • Wildlife Friendly Space
  • Place to Workout / Exercise
  • Work From Home Outdoor Office
  • Protection from the Sun/Rain (Shade)

The possibilities really are endless. So, take some time to brainstorm all of the great ideas you may decide to incorporate. Remember – this isn’t the time for judgment!

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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Divide Your Backyard Landscape Into Rooms

Once you create a wishlist, you’ll have to start making decisions as to what’s really important to you. Depending on the size of your backyard and your budget, you may be able to incorporate just a few of these wishlist items. Or, you may be able to incorporate all of them! Building all of the pieces of your wishlist into your design right in the beginning of the process will ensure that you create a landscape that’s unique to you and your family. 

Illustration of landscape plan with couch, chairs, brick and plants
Illustrated example of an outdoor garden room. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Renovating Existing Rooms

If you’re not designing your backyard from scratch, you may realize that you already have a few different rooms or zones in your backyard already. Now is the time to think about renovating these rooms. Are existing rooms serving their intended purpose? Are they too small? Too large? How can you change the existing spaces in your 

Wishlist Must-Haves & Maybes

A great way of narrowing down and sorting your wishlist is to mark different items from on your list as “must-haves” or “maybes.” Once you’ve narrowed down your wishlist to your must-have list, you can begin to divide your backyard into separate zones, or garden rooms as I like to call them.

Choosing the Hub of Your Backyard Design

When dividing your space into main areas, first think about creating a hub for your landscape. Which idea from your wishlist would you choose to be the centerpiece of your design? Perhaps it’s a large cooking and eating area… or a large firepit area to relax with a glass of wine. Or, maybe you want to be the place where all your friends come to watch Sunday football on the outdoor big screen? Choose one of your ideas to be the main hub. 

Once you choose your hub, select a few more ideas from your wishlist that you can fit into your design. These can be other rooms or spaces in your design.

In this article, you can learn all about garden rooms, so be sure to head over there to learn more.

Connect Areas With Pathways

Pathways are a really underutilized design element, especially for multi-functional spaces like backyards. Pathways don’t have to be large and grand (although they can be). Just suggesting a path to take with a few stepping stones is often more than enough to direct the traffic flow throughout your landscape.

The biggest tip I can give you as a designer is that when you can control the flow of traffic in and around spaces, you are able to immerse others in your design and help them to experience it the way it’s intended. This control is an incredibly powerful tool and pathways can help you get there. 

Link Garden Rooms Together Using Paths

In order to unify your landscape and make it feel connected, you’ll need to consider how you will travel from one garden area to another. The easiest way to do this is to incorporate pathways into your design. These pathways will link the different garden rooms together, creating a clear and distinct route that a person can follow.

Curving brick walkway through a garden with a vine covered arbor overhead
Travel from one garden room to the next with a well-thought-out pathway design.

Pathways Can Serve as Transitional Rooms

The great thing is that pathways can serve as transition areas from one space to the next. Pathways can incorporate other elements from your wishlist, like a water feature, wildlife garden or a seating area for reading & reflection. Even though you’ll just be “passing through” these pathways, it doesn’t mean that they can’t function as additional rooms in your garden.

Hub and Spoke vs. Circuit Pathway Designs

The best pathway design will connect all of your spaces to each other. The two simplest pathway design tactics are what I call the hub and spoke pathway design and the circuit pathway design.

Drawing of a hub with entry to other garden spaces
In a hub and spoke pathway, different areas of your landscape can be entered through the main “hub” of the garden. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.
Drawing of paths that go around a landscape
In a circuit pathway, you would travel around the garden on one single path from start to finish. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Hub and Spoke Pathway

In a hub and spoke pathway design, think about your landscape with the hub as the center, and pathways that connect the hub to the different rooms. This can be like a bicycle with spokes jutting out from different directions. 

Circuit Pathway

In a circuit pathway, one single path will travel around the landscape connecting one room to the next and the next until it ends back at the beginning. If you like this type of pathway, start by choosing an exit point from the main hub room. Then, draw in pathways between each room that eventually circle around to connect each room in your backyard until it comes all the way back to the hub. 

Other Pathways

There are many other options for pathways so don’t be afraid to explore other options as they come to you. These are just two to start with to make the process either. The pathway design you choose will really depend on:

  1. your personal style and
  2. how you want people to interact with your landscape

Draw a Master Plan

The great thing about this step is that you’ve already started to create your master plan. In the last two steps of this process you:

  1. decided on the main rooms of your backyard design and
  2. connected the rooms together with pathways

So, you’ve already got a great head start.

In my opinion, master plans are very helpful whether you plan to DIY your project or work with a landscape designer or contractor. Here’s why.

Master Plans for DIY Backyard Landscape Design

Creating a rough drawing of what you’re envisioning is important because it will get your ideas out of your head and into your landscape. Drawing a master plan of your backyard gives you the freedom to DIY your landscape in different phases as time and money allows. 

Your master plan will also help you to express your ideas to others who may help you choose materials and/or implement parts of your design. 

Master Plans for Hiring Professionals

If you plan to hire out your backyard landscape design, creating a master plan is also an excellent way to express your desires to a landscape designer or contractor who will implement your ideas. 

I’ve been a designer for nearly two decades and I realize how uncomfortable many people are at the idea of hiring a designer. Many assume that a designer will be able to perform some kind of magic with very little input from the client. But I can assure you that designers, contrary to popular belief, are not mind readers. So, the more information you can communicate to them, the better the outcome will be. With a master plan of your ideas, a designer will be able to use their skills and experience to make the space perfect for you and your family. 

Measure Your Backyard Landscape Space

take measurements of your landscape
Jot down perimeter measurements on a piece of paper. By Pretty Purple Door.

When creating your master plan, it’s incredibly useful to measure out your backyard space so that you can determine how much space you have to work with and how big your rooms can actually be. What you may think is a square lot, may be a bit skewed. It’s rare that a property is a perfect square or rectangle. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but if you want to learn more about measuring your space, be sure to read this article for more info: Landscaping from Scratch – 7 Steps to Designing a Garden Plan

Use Grid Paper & Tracing Paper to Explore Ideas

Landscape design bubble drawing example
Try mapping out garden rooms using blocks or bubbles. By Pretty Purple Door.

Next, use grid paper to start plotting out the different rooms and pathways of your space. You don’t need to be a professional artist to do this. A simple bubble drawing with circles, squares and other shapes will do the trick. During this process I like to use tracing paper over the main paper where the perimeter of the backyard is plotted. This allows me to draw quickly and explore many different ideas without having to erase. Sometimes, I’ll draw upwards of 20 ideas on tracing paper. Then, I’ll look at all of my ideas and narrow it down to one or two that I like best. 

Draw Quickly & Without Judgement for Great Results

If you’re not a creative person, please don’t be discouraged by this process. Creativity comes to all of us when we’re given the freedom to explore ideas without judgement. So just draw and draw and draw. Explore all of the ideas you have quickly and without judgement. You’ll be surprised what you’re capable of. 

Consider Detailed Plans For Some Areas

Master plans are not just for rough ideas of your whole landscape. I often explore plans for the entire space as well as separate areas of the landscape that I can zoom in on. So, I may have a drawing or layout for all of the garden rooms. Then, another drawing that explores design ideas for the main hub of the design; like the layout of the grill, countertops, tables and traffic patterns of a dining area. 

Plans can even be drawn for individual garden beds within your landscape. My Design Your 4 Season Garden course is all about creating a planting plan for a garden bed with 4 season interest.

Add Focal Points and Personality

Once you create a master plan and connect your garden rooms together, it’s now time to explore focal points and personality elements that will make your backyard landscape unique to you. 

I have another blog post that discusses focal points in detail. I even have an entire eBook all about placing focal points

So, it’s clear that I believe that focal points are an important part of landscape design. And, they’re so much fun to choose and place, too!

Types of Focal Points

Focal points can be anything really. You can use a stand-out plant or a plant grouping as a focal point. You can also place a planter or a container as your focal point. Some other ideas are a statue, a trellis, a piece of artwork, a fountain, a pond or even a bench or seating area. Even a piece of furniture can be a beautiful focal point. 

Pencil Point Juniper narrow tree with vertical structure
Focal points don’t have to be objects: plants and trees can be great focal points, too. Narrow junipers have a vertical structure and can act as a focal point in your garden. Pictured is Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’. Photo courtesy of Washington State University.

Focal Points with Personality 

When designing your backyard landscape, incorporating focal points can create flow and infuse a bit of your own personality. The choice of focal points, along with the colors and materials they are made from, can be what separates your own landscape from all of your neighbors. Focal points can also really emphasize a particular theme in your landscape. So, don’t forget to add your own personal touches to your backyard just as you would into the interior rooms of your home. 

Focal Points that Emphasize Your Garden Style

If your home is a particular style or you want to pull off a cottage, traditional, modern or contemporary design, focal points can also help you to emphasize your garden style. Not sure what style is right for you? In my article about garden styles, I cover the 4 main garden styles and what types of materials and items you can use to really show off your style. So, be sure to check that article out, too. 

Focal Points to Unite Your Backyard Landscape Design

When choosing focal points, try to use similar materials or colors so that you can tie your design together. You can create unity and flow your design through the use of repetition in color, material or even theme. 

  • Color Examples: groupings of yellow plants or teal blue furniture/accents placed throughout garden rooms
  • Material Examples: rusty metal sculptures and found items, warm-toned wood elements or reclaimed brick. 
  • Theme Examples: Alice in Wonderland décor, colors/objects/shapes to represent your favorite baseball theme, tropical focal point plants and features to remind you of your favorite vacation destination. 

Choose Plants & Features To Match Maintenance Priorities

Now it’s time to review your priorities and make sure that your choices thus far match the level of maintenance you’re able to commit to. 

Maintaining Backyard Features

Sure, a large koi pond filled with fish sounds wonderful…  but do you truly have the time or desire to maintain it? If your answer is no… perhaps you can swap out the koi pond for a smaller bubbler fountain (more water feature ideas) that will provide the relaxation and sound you’re looking for with less maintenance. 

If you were considering an inground pool but are just realizing you don’t have your very own pool boy, maybe a stock tank pool or a fun splash pad is a good compromise/alternative to consider?

Some material choices for your landscape can also be higher maintenance than others. For example, wood decks will need to be sealed or re-stained every year or so. Painted furniture will chip and need touching up. Flagstone paths are beautiful but often get weeds in their cracks that need to tending. 

Flagstone patios are beautiful, but may require weeding in between the cracks. Be sure you’re up for the maintenance different backyard features may require.

Low Maintenance vs. High Maintenance Plants

Choosing plants is typically where most homeowners start in their backyard landscaping journey. But as you can see, there’s plenty to do first!

Plants are wonderful and gardening is good for the soul. There’s many different types of plants that you can choose from trees to shrubs, perennials, annuals, bulbs, grasses, vines and so on.

But it’s important to realize that there’s no such thing as a zero-maintenance garden. Just like cutting grass, garden beds require care and tending. 

If you are cringing at the thought of weeding and watering all your new plants, you may want to choose hardy plants that have lower maintenance than others. If you love to garden, this may be where your backyard landscape design really shines and shows off your personality. My article on landscape layering will guide you through the process of choosing plants for your new landscape design.

Now is the time to make real practical decisions about your wishlist choices. If you’re already short on time, choosing low maintenance plants, landscape features and hardscape materials is really important. Check out my tips for a low maintenance landscape.

If you plan ahead with “low maintenance” in mind… Instead of constantly working on your backyard, you’ll have more time to enjoy it. So decide what’s important to you and tweak your plan as needed.  

Wrapping Up

When designing your backyard landscape, start by brainstorming a wishlist of ideas for how you and your family will use the space. Choose your favorite ideas and incorporate them into your design as separate garden rooms within your backyard. Be sure to connect the rooms together using pathways that can serve as additional, transitional rooms between different areas of your landscape.

You can draw a simple master plan to show your ideas to others; whether they are helping you to DIY the design or you’re hiring your project out. Be sure to incorporate focal points that add personality and emphasize your garden style. Remember that repetition is key in creating unity & flow in your landscape.

Finally, take one last look at your plan and assess it for maintenance nightmares. The last thing you want is to create lots more work for yourself. If you’re short on time, choose low maintenance plants and features that will give you more time to relax and enjoy your brand new backyard landscape.

Shop my Amazon storefront for my essential gardening books & tool recommendations!

More Garden Design Posts You’ll Love

womans legs, wearing black pants and sneakers jumping in a puddle.
Whether you plan to DIY your backyard landscape or hire a professional, it’s useful to go through these steps to ensure that you get exactly what you want from your backyard landscape design project! Photo by Lukas Godina (CC0 1.0), via Unsplash
How To Create Comfy, Cozy Outdoor Garden Rooms (Lots of Examples!)

How To Create Comfy, Cozy Outdoor Garden Rooms (Lots of Examples!)

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed that “garden rooms” has become quite the buzzword in landscape design. I get countless emails about what they are and how to go about creating them. Even though lots of people are talking about them… I haven’t found many explanations that define what garden rooms actually ARE.

So, let’s talk about it!

Outdoor garden rooms are very much like indoor rooms of a home. Both indoor rooms and outdoor garden rooms have floors, walls, ceilings and (usually) furniture. We divide a home’s footprint into different rooms for defined uses such as eating, sleeping and working. The same is true outdoors. You can divide your yard into rooms or spaces that serve different outdoor functions.

What is an Outdoor Garden Room?

firepit and garden rooms with ocean backdrop in Dubai.
Multiple garden rooms, one with a firepit, allow people to relax and enjoy a beautiful ocean view in Dubai.
Datingscout (CC0 1.0), via Unsplash

The truth is that the concept of garden rooms is not a new one to designers. We’re always seeking ways to divide a landscapes into functional, enjoyable and beautiful spaces.

Garden rooms can be as unique as you are. But a few examples of defined spaces you may decide to turn into rooms are:

  • kitchen / cooking space
  • dining room
  • relaxing area
  • reading nook
  • entertaining room
  • kids play area
  • dog play area or catio
  • vegetable garden space
  • wildlife zone
  • sports/fitness space (like a putting green, basketball hoop or yoga room)
  • firepit area
  • outdoor movie theatre

If you’re still in the process of figuring out your wish list and creating a space infused with your personality, check out my Garden Style Mood Board Workshop. This workshop will help you create blueprints to a clear, specific and implementable vision for your yard that you can DIY (or hand over to a professional).

Before designing a single outdoor garden room, first create a master design plan. This will ensure that you have a cohesive landscape that flows and makes the best use of your space. If you haven’t done this yet, head over to this landscaping from scratch article to go through the process.

Components of Outdoor Garden Rooms

Outdoor garden rooms have a defined purpose. Just like your kitchen, living room, bedroom or office has a purpose! And, you can decorate and style them like you do your indoor spaces!

💡 Once I started to think about outdoor garden rooms the way I think about interior design, everything clicked.

This little garden room illustration I drew will help explain this idea further.

Illustration of landscape plan with couch, chairs, brick and plants
Illustrated example of an outdoor garden room. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Let’s take a look at the lounge area of this patio to understand the different components of garden rooms.

  • I positioned an outdoor area rug underneath the furniture to create the garden floor.
  • Mixed borders (bottom & left), a raised planter (top) and potted plants (right) surround the room to define garden walls.
  • The canopies of large trees will create a garden ceiling overhead.
  • Garden room furniture (couch, chairs, coffee table and ottoman) is arranged to encourage intimate conversation with friends or family.

In my opinion, the most important part of an outdoor garden room is the entrance. So, in each section, I’ll also discuss how you can apply these components to the entry of your garden room. Focus the majority of your efforts on creating a welcoming entry into your garden room. This will create the biggest impact with the least amount of effort.

Garden Room Floors

Garden floors define the area of your garden room. The garden floor is what you see when you look down at the ground. Garden floors can be softscape material, like grass or mulch. They can also be hardscape material, like stone or brick. Outdoor area rugs are also commonly used to define an outdoor garden room floor.

When designing your entire outdoor space, be consistent in your use of hardscape materials and color. Most home owners use too many materials which makes the design feel disconnected.

When choosing the flooring of your garden room, there’s a few things you need to keep in mind. Try to limit your hardscape choices to two or three for your entire design. Or, use the same flooring but change up the pattern, color or texture of the flooring material.

Your outdoor space will look unprofessional if you choose different flooring for every single garden room. Next time you’re in a professionally designed space, look down. Count how many hardscape materials you see. Are they truly different materials? Or are they different patterns, tones and textures of the same material?

While you shouldn’t use 20 different hardscape materials, a change of flooring can “welcome” someone into a garden room. It indicates that they’ve entered a new space.

You can change the hardscape material for your entire garden room. For example, a brick pathway leading to a concrete dining area.

Outdoor garden room
Floors of garden rooms can be pretty much anything. The trick is to change the texture, pattern or flooring material upon entry into the room. In this dining area, crushed stone and mismatched chairs create a casual, beach vibe. From Philadelphia Flower Show 2020. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Garden flooring changes can also be subtle. You can change the pattern of the flooring to indicate that a person is entering a new space. For example, change a running bond brick pattern to a herringbone pattern. Or, change the direction of the brick.

You can also use an area rug to define the floor of your outdoor garden room. Or line the edges of your garden room with a repeating plant to outline the space. Low growing grasses and sedges work well for this.

Entry Tip: Just change the flooring material or pattern at the entrance of your room. A fun trick is to use a material that makes a sound upon entering the room (like crushed stone). Then, transition back to the original flooring.

Outdoor Flooring Materials

There are so many material options that you can choose for garden flooring. Some of my favorite flooring materials are grass, mulch, pavers, flagstone, brick, concrete and crushed stone.

Grid of different outdoor garden room flooring

Your garden style will determine many of your hardscape material choices. If you’re not sure what your style is, head over to this garden styles article to learn more about each one. There are so many different materials you can use to create the floor of a garden room . Garden floors are a place you can let your personality and style shine through.

You don’t need to change the flooring in your garden room. You can also use garden walls and ceilings to define the space. So, let’s discuss those next.

Garden Room Walls

Garden room walls are used to define the edges of your space or create a sense of intimacy and enclosure. Living garden walls, such as hedge rows and vines create natural walls. Fencing, stone, lattice or existing structures can also make great garden room walls.

Walls define the edges of your garden room and can be low or high, depending on your needs. Consider using plant borders and privacy hedges for living walls. High fences or low stacked stones also make excellent garden walls. There’s no right or wrong choice!

Existing structures, like walls of a home, shed or garage, also make great garden room walls. Use these existing structures to your advantage. They can provide a beautiful backdrop for your garden room for little to no cost!

There’s no hard and fast rule about the height of your garden room walls. They can be very low, which will connect your garden room with other spaces. Higher walls will create more privacy and intimacy. Higher garden walls can also help block out noise from nearby streets and neighbors.

But, if you’re looking for a guide, the law of significant enclosure states that the walls should be 1/3 the length of the horizontal space in order to make the room feel cozy and enclosed.

So, if you have a patio that’s 12′ in length, a wall or hedgerow of 4′ would be enough to create that sense of enclosure you’re looking for in a garden room.

Outdoor garden room door and walls
In this unique design, actual walls and a doorway define the walls and entry of this garden room. The freestanding walls reach about 8′ high and create a grant entry to this outdoor room. From Philadelphia Flower Show 2020. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Entry Tip: A stone wall or hedge row that flanks each side of an arbor would create a stylish, walled entry to a garden room.

If you’re in the process of planning out your landscape, you will love my Plant Perfect Activity Book. This activity book is a creative & fun way to get you thinking about your property in a whole new way… all while drawing, coloring and crafting your way through fun, hands-on garden design activities. 

I’ll show you how to reclaim your privacy, reduce noise, hide your neighbor’s garbage heap… or just learn exactly where the most peaceful place to enjoy your morning tea or coffee is. It’s really a great way to start planning out the garden of your dreams.

Garden Wall Materials

A few of my favorite materials to use for garden walls are fences, trellis/lattice with climbing vines or outdoor décor, mixed border plantings, trimmed hedges and stone walls.

Garden wall ideas for garden rooms in a grid

Garden Room Ceilings

Garden ceilings create the canopy above your garden room. A garden ceiling can be open, semi-open, or completely covered. A ceiling adds extra depth to a garden room. It can also bring the scale of your garden room down, creating more intimacy and enclosure.

Ceilings are often overlooked when designing a garden room. But, that’s ok, because they aren’t required. You can have a lovely garden room with an open-air ceiling, too.

But, in my opinion, garden ceilings can be a very special addition to your space. A ceiling can enhance your garden room. A ceiling can also increase how often you can use your garden room. Ceilings can protect you from the elements, like harsh sun or rain. They can also provide a light source, so you can use your garden room later into the evening.

Garden ceilings can also be tricky, though. A ceiling can directly affect the perceived scale of your room. Ceilings can make a room more intimate, smaller, safer, cozier. A room with no ceiling, exposed to vast, open skies can have the opposite effect.

Outdoor garden room with wood ceiling and vines
This outdoor garden room is defined by a wooden pergola with climbing vines that form a ceiling overhead. From Philadelphia Flower Show 2020. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Garden ceilings can provide shade, privacy and protection from the elements. While the ceiling is a very functional part of a garden room, it can be just as beautiful as the floors and walls.

First, determine if you need solid protection or if your garden room can be partially open to the sky. You may want a covered ceiling so that you can dine outdoors even when it’s raining. In a sunny yard, a large tree canopy, shade sail or pergola can provide protection from the sun.

Maybe you want to use your garden room late into the evening. A ceiling of string lights or paper lanterns would truly enhance your garden room; both in function and beauty.

Entry Tip: Create a ceiling over a garden room entrance using an arbor with a “hat” on it. This creates a sense of enclosure and a place to hang overhead lights!

Garden Ceiling Materials

A few of my favorite materials to use for garden ceilings are tree canopies, string lights, chandeliers, pergolas/gazebos with climbing vines, umbrellas and shade sails.

grid of different garden ceilings for garden room

Garden Room Furniture & Accessories

It’s no coincidence that furniture and accessories are the last piece of the garden room in this article. Defining the garden room structure is much more important, just like building the structure of a home.

Once construction is complete, use furniture and accessories to further define the style and mood of your garden room. Furniture choices can depend greatly on your garden style. Accessories can style your outdoor room, just like your indoor rooms. So, look for ways to bring your personal style in to the furniture and accessories you choose.

Outdoor garden bedroom
Forget the typical benches, chairs and furniture you’d find in an outdoor garden room… in this example the furniture is literally a bed. From Philadelphia Flower Show 2020. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Entry Tip: Set the tone of your garden room using containers that flank the entrance. This can set the stage for the décor style & colors you’ll use inside the garden room.

A great way to create cohesiveness between the interior and exterior rooms is to continue the same style. Take cues from your home and try to incorporate similar accessories and colors outside, too.

As an example, I love to use copper to decorate my home. All of my dining chairs and many of my décor pieces are copper. So, I purchased a copper wind spinner, an arbor with copper elements and copper-toned planters for my outdoor space. This ties my indoor and outdoor spaces together, while showing off my style.

Furniture Options

There are so many different options for outdoor garden furniture. You can choose from dining/lounge chairs, couches, benches, ottomans and dining/coffee/end tables in a huge variety of styles and colors. I also really like using egg chairs, hanging chairs, swings and other whimsical furniture in garden rooms to make them feel special.

outdoor seating ideas for garden room

Accessory Options

Containers are your best friend in accessorizing a garden room. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Rooms can have art on the walls, hanging plants and window boxes, sculptures, bird houses, wind chimes/spinners, water features, fire features, throw pillows and blankets. Use accessories to tie your room together with pattern and color; just like you do inside of your home.

Designing An Outdoor Garden Room

Now that you know all of the components of a garden room, you should be ready to design your own. I know that this can still be a daunting task… putting all of the pieces together. So, here are some tips to get you started.

Creating the Structure of an Outdoor Garden Room

I like to think about designing a garden room in the same way you’d design an interior room of your house. The only difference between outdoor and indoor rooms is that you have to define/create the actual structure for an outdoor room. But that’s a fun and exciting challenge — you get to pick the materials for your floors, walls and ceiling! That means it can be really unique and personalized!

Lisa Nunamaker, a garden design educator, writer, illustrator and speaker, introduced me to the concept of garden rooms many years ago. Check out her article for instructions and printable file you can use to create your own “Pop-Up Garden Room” just like the one I made in her Garden Graphics Toolkit course.

Pop up garden room from printed paper template
Here’s my own garden room creation using the Pop Up Garden Template from Paper Garden Workshop. Using a template and drawing the pieces of your garden room is a fun way to explore your ideas. Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Decorating an Outdoor Room

Once you explore some ideas to create the structure of your garden room, it’s finally time to arrange and decorate the inside. We all have experience arranging furniture, choosing paint colors and coordinating accessories. So, this should be a really familiar process!

Try using the same process you would for an indoor room using materials that are suitable for outdoor use. I like to define a color palette or theme throughout my room to make it feel put together.

Don’t forget about lighting, area rugs wall art and even accessories like vases or throw pillows to finish off and unify your space.

Front porch garden room with egg chair
For the garden room on my front porch, I used oversized furniture coupled with complimenting colors and patterns to create a cozy reading nook; complete with overhead chandelier. Eventually, vines will grow along the railings to enclose the walls even more. Photo/Design by Pretty Purple Door.

Wrapping Up

So, I hope this information helps you to understand what a garden room is and the process for designing your own. Both indoor and outdoor “rooms” are made up of floors, walls, ceilings and (usually) furniture and accessories. Remember that each outdoor garden room can serve it’s own purpose; such as relaxing, dining, entertaining, growing food or playing games. Take inspiration from your indoor spaces when decorating your outdoor rooms.

Before you know it, you’re entire yard will be filled with “uniquely you” garden rooms.

I can’t wait to see what ideas you come up with! And don’t forget to grab my Plant Perfect Activity Book to help you through the process of planning out your landscape and putting those garden rooms in the perfect location!

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outdoor dining jungle garden room
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How to Arrange Plants in Containers – 7 Design Tips

How to Arrange Plants in Containers – 7 Design Tips

It’s fun to go to the garden center looking for gorgeous plants for your planters and containers. But, that fun can really quickly turn to overwhelm and dread when you start to see how many plants and flowers there are to choose from.

In a moment of panic, you turn around and spot that pre-made container near the checkout for $75. And, it feels like someone threw a lifeline to you as you breathe a sigh of relieft.

Believe me, I know how incredibly tempting it is to buy that premade arrangement and move on with your life.

But, did you know that once you learn some simple tricks to arranging plants in containers, you’ll save SO much money? Not only that, your containers will be unique and creative, too.

So, if you’ve been struggling with arranging plants, I’ve put together this post — and a video — to show you:

  • how I choose plants for my containers
  • how I combine different plants together
  • how I arrange the plants in my containers
Fall Planters – Container Design using Ornamental Peppers

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Tips to make the perfect container arrangement

You can watch the video above to get all of my tips and a bit more of a “visual” look at why I’m choosing each plant. Or, below you can read each tip and laugh at me trying to explain what I’m talking about in the video 🙂

1 Choose an “inspiration” plant

My first tip is to make a loop around the garden center and find a plant that inspires you. Maybe it’s something you’ve never seen before? Maybe it’s a color you love? Maybe it’s a plant you’re familiar with, but have never seen it in THAT color before? Maybe it’s a vegetable, like cabbage, kale of peppers? Or even an ornamental grass?

Whatever it is, find that plant that you just MUST have. The one that speaks to you. This will be the starting/jumping off point for arranging your container.

Dark purple pepper plant with purple blooms

For me, the jumping off point was the moment that I saw this beautiful and unusual plant at the garden center. It’s a dark purple, almost black, ornamental pepper called Black Pearl (Capsicum annuum black pearl).

Those round, shiny nubs are actually hot peppers and it blooms with purple flowers. And I had to have it.

2 Tie your container in with your existing landscape

Ok, so black pearl pepper is in my cart and I have already decided that I must need it. At this point, I HAVE to give myself a good old gut check. I call this the “gut check” test.

So, I ask myself how this plant actually ties into my existing landscape. And, I know that it may be a strange question because this is a container arrangement… right? But, the fact remains that your landscape does not go away just because you decided to change out your container. So, there has to be some connection between your planter and your landscape.

For me… there is because I use a lot of purple blooms in my landscape. So, even though the foliage of this pepper plant is WAY darker than anything in my landscape, it still has the purple blooms that tie in with my purple asters at catmint this time of year.

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3 Find plants to compliment your inspiration plant

So, we have our inspirational plant. Around this time, I’m staring at it in my cart and grinning like an idiot as I bump into displays around the nursery… because I am in love with it and I’ve passed my “gut check” test.

So, the next thing on my agenda is to find plants to go with this particular plant. And, in most cases I think about color. So I’m usually looking for something else that’s purple like the pepper… or something orange or yellow that contrasts with the purple.

Quick Tip: Learning just a little bit about the color wheel and creating color schemes will up your gardening game.

For me, it was another pepper plant. And yes, apparently I’m obsessed with peppers this year. But, this plant had so much going for it and I thought it was the perfect companion to my black pearl pepper. It’s called Mambo ornamental pepper bush (Capsicum annuum Mambo).

Ornamental Pepper Bush - Orange and Purple Peppers

Mambo ties in beautifully with Black Pearl because it has similarities, but it also has differences.

It has shiny peppers on it, but the peppers are a different shape and some are the same (purple) but some are different (orange)

Also, the foliage of this pepper bush is the same shape and has the same shine as Black Pearl. The leaves are dark, but not quite as dark as Black Pearl.

4 Use contrast in color and texture to make an interesting arrangement

So at this stage we have Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper paired with Mambo Ornamental Pepper bush. And, Mambo gives a bit of contrast but not enough to really amp up my container. So my next mission is to find something that will really contrast with my inspiration plant.

So, I took cues from the orange peppers in Mambo and set out to find another orange blooming plant. But not another pepper. I need something with a different texture than the shiny bulbs I already have. And that’s when I stumbled upon Celosia ‘Twisted Orange’ Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Twisted Orange’).

Closeup of fuzzy twisted blooms of the Twisted Orange Cockscomb plant

How unique and exciting are these blooms? This is just what I was looking for as far as contrast.

The blooms are a fuzzy, twisty orange mass which is much, much different than the shiny bulbs of the peppers I had.

It also has lighter green foliage that are a bit bigger than the leaves of the peppers (although they are basically the same shape).

5 Choose plants of different heights

When I get to this point, I’m usually thinking about what I’m missing from my container. In most cases, it’s variation in height, but it certainly could be other things.

You want to make sure you include something tall, something bushy and something low to cover the dirt (or even “spill over” the container). So, in my arrangement, I have my Mambo peppers that will grow low and possibly spill over the edge of the planter. My celosia and Black Pearl pepper will fill in the middle height. But I am really missing that “thriller” part.

And, by the way, I really don’t like using the word thriller… you know how they say thriller, spiller, filler. It’s all well and fine to use this to remember to vary the heights of your plants, but I find that in a majority of my planters that the thriller isn’t really all that thrilling. It’s usually just a tall grass or something to give the planter height. In this case I feel like I’ve already found my thriller in the Black Pearl Pepper. So… anything after that is just… not so thrilling.

So, to summarize this, varying plant heights in a container IS super important. But the tallest plant doesn’t need to be the most “thrilling” part of your container. Make sense?

Chartreuse green millet plant with strappy leaves

I chose Jade Princess Millet (Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’) for my tallest plant in my container.

Millet doesn’t bloom… but it solves several problems with my container; height, leaf shape and brightness.

6 Review your plant choices to see if anything is missing

So, what are these problems exactly? Well, take a look at your plant choices as a group and you may start to realize that something is “off” or “wrong”. In many cases, it has to do with the heights of the plants like I said above.

But in some other cases it will be something not as easy to pinpoint. But, here are some common issues that you may have and what you can do to fix them.

container with dark purple and bright orange peppers in front of a house
Ornamental Peppers Fall Container by Amy Fedele, Pretty Purple Door

Do you have plants that are different heights?

Think… tall, bushy, low. Make sure that there’s a variation of heights for your plants and that you really can’t see the soil. Or, once the plants grow in you won’t be able to see the soil. Adding some different height plants adds a lot of interest to your container.

If you don’t want this “style” of container, that’s ok too. There are lots of different things you can do. So, just move to the next point.

Is there enough contrast?

You want to make sure that your arrangement is cohesive. But it should also have enough contrast to create some interest. So think about color contrast… but also contrast in shapes and textures too.

In my planter, part of the problem was with contrast in the leaf shape. This was resolved by the strappy foliage of the millet. The majority of a plant is foliage so I tend NOT to rely on the color of the blooms to carry my designs.

If all the color was removed, are the plants able to stand out from each other? Or, does everything just blend together? If it blends, you may need to find a tiny leafed plant, a large leafed plant, or just something different to add to your container arrangement.

What feeling does it evoke?

What’s the first word that comes to mind for you? When I looked at my arrangement I thought of “spooky.” Which… is kind of ok… since it’s almost Halloween. BUT, it wasn’t completely ok with me.

I don’t my planters to feel too dark and scary. So, I needed to choose something to brighten it up. Which is where my choice for the Jade Princess Millet came in.

So, think about the first word that comes to mind (dull, boring, girly, cheerful, dark). Is it a positive word or a negative one? How can you change the feeling?

Does it remind you of anything?

I associate color with a lot of different things… so often when I look at an arrangement I immediately think of common items or even popular brands that use those colors. This can be good or bad so let’s go over a few examples.

I really can’t stand the combination of red and yellow flowers together. I immediately see ketchup and mustard and think of McDonalds. Nothing wrong with McDonalds… I just don’t like the food enough to create a plant arrangement in Ronald’s honor.

But, I really do love ice cream. One time I made a planter arrangement with lots of different pastel colors and the first thing I thought of when I looked at it was rainbow sherbet. So, that was a wonderful association… except for my diet!

So… if your arrangement is sparking some weird associations, that’s totally normal. If it’s a positive association (like rainbow sherbet ice cream), go for it. If it’s something you don’t particularly like (Ronald)… maybe you need to adjust it.

7 Divide plants to fill multiple containers for less money

Did you know that just because you purchase one plant in a pot… it doesn’t mean that it’s only one plant? My mind was blown when I first realized this. And now I will never go back to purchasing premade arrangements.

Take a look inside of the plant that you’re about to buy. Do you see multiple stems coming out of the soil? If so, it’s likely that the plant can be divided into at least two different plants.

Actually, the ornamental pepper bush in the video above was actually 5 separate plants. So, I purchased one pot for $7.99 and was able to divide that into 5 different plants for my containers! Not a bad deal, right?

If you want to learn more about how to split plants in containers, just watch this video and I’ll show you how to do it.

Quick Tip: If you’re looking for more gorgeous fall container ideas, head over to this post, 10 Fall Flower Containers with a Unique Twist 

BONUS- Use a self-watering planter

If you’re getting into container gardening, self-watering planters are a great option. Not only do they save you time having to water each day, but overall will lead to healthier and happier plants that are consistently getting the moisture they need to survive.

You can purchase these planters at nurseries and home improvement stores. But, you can also fairly easily turn a container you love into a self-watering planter.

What did I plant?

four plant choices for container separated into blocks
Black pearl ornamental pepper, Mambo ornamental pepper bush, Celosia twisted Orange, Jade princess Millet

From left to right, here are my fall container arrangement plant choices:

  1. Black pearl ornamental pepper Capsicum annuum black pearl
  2. Mambo ornamental pepper bush Capsicum annuum Mambo
  3. Celosia twisted Orange Cockscomb Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Twisted Orange’
  4. Jade princess Millet Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’

Wrapping Up

When creating your own container arrangement, start with one plant as inspiration and go form there. Then, find a plant to compliment your inspiration plant. Then, another plant that contrasts it in either color, leaf shape, texture or size…. or all of the above. Next, you want to make sure you include something tall, something bushy and something low to cover the dirt (or even “spill over” the container). Lastly, have fun and enjoy the process of choosing your plants and arranging them in your containers. If you liked this post about container arrangements, you’ll definitely want to check out my top tips for arranging plants in your landscape.

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Closeups of orange, purple and green plants; How to arrange plants in containers
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How to Balance an Asymmetrical Landscape (with Illustrations)

How to Balance an Asymmetrical Landscape (with Illustrations)

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?

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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!

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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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!

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