Be at one with your garden

Good looking gardens are designed around several design principles; these include such things as; rhythm, unity, repetition, balance, proportion, simplicity and focal points.

Of all of the garden design principles unity is probably the most important principle to apply and one of the hardest to describe, but when it is present you know because your eyes and brain are pleased to see it.

When you look at a garden, on an unconscious level your mind simplifies and organises what it sees, it looks for a connection between the elements, for some sort of organisation, for a common thread that runs through your garden.

A unified design creates a harmony between the various elements so that they relate to each other, work well together and create an impact.

Unity within a garden design can be achieved by;

1. Unity of themes

Where a garden has a theme which overrides everything else. For example, a Japanese Garden, which relies on precise, strong sculptural forms and texture such as rocks, gravel and planting.

Iris    Bridge and Cherry









Or, as seen in the gardens of Sissinghurst, Kent and Hidcote Manor, Gloucestershire, designed and laid out by Vita Sacksville-West and Lawrence Johnston respectively, both have strong overriding geometric layouts that create a series of interlocking out-door rooms seperated by hedges and paths.









Sissinghurst Garden Kent


Hedges and topiary2Hornbeams








Hidcote Manor Garden Gloucestershire


Or,  in a water garden in which it’s overriding theme naturally unifies the design.

RHS Gold Medal 'Huckleberry's Hideout'1    RHS Gold Medal 'Huckleberry's Hideout'







Julian Tatlock  RHS Show Garden ‘Huckleberry’s Hideout’


2. Unity of Style

The style of a garden is defined by the geometry used in the design. The style may be formal, asymmetrical or informal.

Formal style

In a  formal design the style is symmetrical, usually across a central axis, and creates a static, calm and restful feel to a garden. Such as those in the Moorish gardens of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

Alhambra PalaceRill with fountains




Enclosed PoolSymmetrical pools














Alhambra Palace Granada Andalusia Spain


Asymmetrical style

An asymmetrical style falls somewhere between informal and formal.

Asymmetry was an important tool for the Modernists of the 1930’s, were the cross over off ideas between garden designers such as, Thomas Church and Garrett Eckbo and artists was apparent  in the paintings of Mondrian whose beautiful geometric patterns can be perfectly translated into garden designs.

Mondrian picture  GardenGardenMondrian Garden








Mondrian painting                                                  Garden in a Mondrian style

Informal Style

A more fluid, organic style which relies on curves to create free flowing informal patterns.

The landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx was the master of the informal style in his paintings and landscapes.

Painting                                  Garden









Japanese Gardens are also good examples of the informal pattern. Designed with careful balance and proportions and created around philosophy they contain precisely  placed traditional elements such as stones, rocks and plants with dynamic form and textures.

Gravel and Rock         Japanese-Sand-Garden







3. Unity of detail

Visual unity can be achieved in repeating similar elements such as plants, to create a

harmony within the garden design as seen in the White Garden at Sissinghurst.


White Rose Garden   White Rose Garden1








4. Unity of the landscape and location

Look too at the architecture of your house, the material used to build it or, the views of the landscape beyond all can be used to unify your garden design.

Use whatever colours, shapes and forms you see around you and repeat them.

Even the most unpromising prospects can be used to good effect.

Against the backdrop of the Dungeness B nuclear power station with ranks of pylons and the bleak expanse of shingle stretching into the distance, the garden of the artist and film director, Derek Jarman, mimics, with tall, upright pieces of driftwood, the pylons on the horizon.



Garden 1  Garden 3Garden 4  Garden 5

Derek Jarman’s Garden Dungeness Kent















Just as a garden design that has too much variety appears busy and confused,

too much unity is boring.

The garden designer’s job is to find that perfect balance between the two.