What is the difference between a “nice” landscape and one that inspires lingering views and evokes emotion similar to our response to art? The answer is landscape layering. A beautiful landscape is well-planned, intentionally planted, and full of the dynamic aspects of art our souls and eyes respond to. These aspects can be achieved by landscape layering.
Layering plants in a landscape can be defined by including a variety of plants into staggered levels of foreground, middle-ground, and background viewing points. Gardens and landscapes are three-dimensional experiences with ever-changing and many focal points.
Learning about different landscape layering ideas to grow your most beautiful landscape is an enjoyable and essential step when exploring how to layer plants in landscaping. Not only will you need to consider the size of plants, but also the shape, coloring, unique thriving needs (sunlight, shade, water), and their life journey through the annum. These thoughtful considerations will help you accomplish the desired visual aesthetic when layering landscaping and, with proper planning, save you from costly mistakes.
Beautiful landscapes have inspired beautiful art through the ages. Key elements of both include thoughtful attention to balance, depth, flow, and scale. Begin exploring the art in your landscape planting by identifying your main viewing points.
Do you appreciate your landscape from the kitchen window above the sink while doing dishes? Do you have a second-story window your home office desk faces? Is your patio pleasing from afar but feels empty when sitting on it?
Don’t forget your home’s curb appeal- the walk-up curb appeal of your landscape can add tens of thousands of dollars to your home’s value. When building your dream layered landscape, these viewing points will be your first anchor points.
Once you have identified your main viewing points, you can plan your landscape. Do you have existing structures to build around? These can be paved patios, sheds, gazebos, pools, hot tubs, water features like waterfalls or ponds, or even simple pathways through a sprawling lawn.
Does your landscape have mature trees or existing landscaping to incorporate? These are all anchor points to build your layered visual landscape around and are essential to consider during the planning process as they will help define your focal points.
We often feel balance when viewing something, but we can’t quite define how. We notice it most when things are off-balance, making us feel uneasy or move our focus more quickly to another view.
First, the eye naturally finds the focal point of the landscape- which you have already decided upon if you’ve followed the advice above. Next, the eye will travel from interest point to interest point, depending on where and how you have developed an interest. Balance is the glue that holds your design together.
Creating balance in your layered landscape design takes a big picture view. Many homeowners choose to consult a professional due to the overwhelming undertaking of a first-time layered landscape design.
Balance can be created in your landscape design by carefully placing color and texture, and especially by keeping size (both height and breadth) in mind—Group similar plants with intention, i.e., along a walking path. Don’t plant taller shrubs on only the western corner of your yard- be strategic with your planting to ensure a visual balance is achieved.
Depth and balance go hand-in-hand. Imagine you are painting a still life. You have a large clay vase, a tall, slim bottle, and a short flower. You wouldn’t place the most oversized item in front of the others because it would block their view. Instead, you would put the largest in the background and stagger the tall, slim item with the shorter thing in front to provide ideal viewing of all of the items.
Depth is balance’s best friend. You wouldn’t have a square-shaped painting and line these three objects up vertically. Instead, you would stagger them horizontally as well to maximize the interest points of the canvas.
Apply this same strategy to your planned plantings. Your tallest plants belong in the background or peripheral of the focal area. Usually, ornamental trees, evergreens, or shade trees belong here. Another way to create depth is with color and shape.
Flow is significant when planning your layered landscape design. Not only aesthetically but also for utility. Be sure to consider how your garden beds and landscaped areas flow together. Are they grouped with groundcover plants? Are they separated by retaining walls?
The unification and separation of your garden and landscape zones can make or break the flow of your overall design. Add unity by incorporating repetition of plants, color, texture, or size. Planned repetition is one of the easiest and most valuable ways to ensure the proper flow and unity of a layered landscape design.
Scale is essential when considering the size of your garden bed and the overall property size. More importantly, plan for the full-grown scale of your plants as they grow to maturity as one cohesive layered landscape. You can waste years of work and time nurturing your layers of landscape only to find there is not enough room for them all to thrive- and you have to re-home them all and start all over again.
Don’t forget that these key elements are applicable when considering how to layer a garden.
Don’t forget to look side to side as you look up and down while planning your layered landscape focal points. Vertical landscaping can also include your foundational landscaping, which is closest to your home. Plan smartly. Do you wish for more light through your windows? Or do you value privacy without having to put up heavy curtains? Layered front yard landscaping can make the difference when pricing your home for sale.
To bring more light through your windows, allow for a deeper foundation bed, and leave the taller trees and greenery to the corners of the home and further out in your landscape. To add privacy, consider 4-season taller plants and trees dense in foliage for the most coverage. Bonus- these also provide a beautiful background for building your layered landscape.
Vertical landscaping is an important consideration, especially in smaller spaces. However, horizontal landscaping looks at the longer part of your overall landscape design. Most layered landscaping refers to the aspects of larger areas that horizontal landscaping can incorporate. With the proper planning, you can add oceans of layers to your foundation beds without overcrowding or taking away from your exquisite home exterior features.
After defining your viewing points and focal points, you can start sketching your overall landscape dream. As with any sketch, begin with the background. Plants that come recommended as the ideal background for layered landscapes include:
The midground is where you have the most creative freedom. Here, you have the space to plant altering perennials/annuals to alter your focal points’ main color scheme. You can complement the foreground if this landscape area is located in a walking area or look at the bigger horizontal landscape picture when scanning the vast property.
When planning the midground in horizontal landscaping, it’s recommended to keep in mind the overall lifetime growth of your midground plants as well as the continuity between garden zones.
The midground is your creative space, where you can play with color, size, height, and shape. Plant taller, thin flowers sporadically and complement them with small bushes that flower every spring. Be sure to consider your climate and play with the different hues of green available when picking shrubbery.
The foreground and what are called groundcovers can be two different ideas. Groundcovers can be greenery like very short bushes, climbing ground vines, grass of all kinds, or non-live additions such as wood chips, gravel, rock, or artificial foliage.
The foreground in a layered landscape is the closest to the eye, either when walking through the landscape on a path and drawn to a focal point or when admiring from a dedicated viewpoint. Unique shapes and colors are oft4en used in the foreground of layered landscapes. Still, for those enjoyed in person instead of from afar, it’s essential to consider how the fragrance of combined elements works together to contribute to the overall desired effect.
The foreground in layered landscape ideas can often give the best plans for how to group plants in landscaping. Refer to scale, balance, and color tips to make the most of your groupings.
It can be an exciting adventure as you start to stagger and scale your layered landscape. However, much like when clothes shopping- it’s easy to want to buy that one “cool” thing. Remember to think of that “cool” plant as if you would like that trendy top. What will you wear it with? If you’re buying it for your permanent wardrobe, how does it work with the rest of your closet?
Apply the same rhetoric to layered landscaping. When picking out new plants, flowers, or other greenery, ask yourself, “What will I plant this with?” because no plant/flower/greens – or shirt/pant/shoe- is meant to be worn or grown alone. Don’t be afraid to consult the pros.
Contact us for a quick, honest, and straightforward answer to all your questions about layered landscaping dreams.
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