Your success in producing a beautiful landscape on your property will depend upon how well you can combine the many plant forms, textures (mainly of foliage) and colors at your disposal to give a result that is pleasant and orderly. Doing this is called landscape composition. And since you cannot see your entire property from one point at one time, it leads you into a complicated but most interesting and quite intriguing art.
The “trick of the trade” is to make a landscape plan for the entire property right at the very beginning so you can visualize the completed landscape perfection picture as a unit. In this unit three of our most important ingredients will be repetition, sequence, and balance. But since you are mainly concerned with a landscape project involving home grounds instead of a large estate, do not let yourself get too involved in the complexities of the composition.
The larger the land area, and the more plant material and land forms you have to work with, the easier it is to work all of them into the picture. Yet even on the average home grounds, it is possible to work in these three factors of repetition, sequence, and balance, though on a much simpler scale. At times it will be almost impossible to use one or more of the factors; because of cramped quarters at other times it will not be necessary to be so thorough in the design.
Be practical, and consider them, therefore, as desirable but not essential components. Should you have sufficient funds to make hiring a landscape designer or landscape architect a worthwhile investment, then, naturally, you should expect him to incorporate these elements of composition into your landscape.
When we say that we seek unity in a garden through repetition, sequence, and balance we simply mean that any one part of the garden shall be a definite and integral part of the whole. For example, you often see a property on which there are a dozen or more flowering trees in bloom, no two of which are alike. How much more pleasant it would be if, let us say, a white dogwood burst into bloom in the public area at the same time that two or three other white dogwoods were blooming in the service or private area, or both.
A person walking around the property would definitely notice that the same kind of tree was in bloom in the front yard as was flowering in the backyard. This is a very simple illustration of repetition in that the same type tree has been used in planting all three areas of your plan.
As an example of a sequence in design consider a series of promontories developed along a shrub border so arranged that, from one particular position – a patio, say – in the rear of the house, the observer could see the tips of all of them. His attention would move easily from the promontory nearest him to the next one, and finally to the third at the far end of the property. The same thing could involve a series of tree trunks, the observer’s attention moving from one tree trunk to another tree trunk farther across the property.
The third element or factor that goes into the making of a landscape composition is balance. It is the simplest for an observer to notice and perhaps the easiest to attain in a landscape planting that is developed along formal lines. Though less easy to achieve in an informal design, it is nevertheless within the grasp of amateurs.
For all practical intents and purposes we can say that balance in the formal garden is attained by having on the left side of the garden everything that there is on the right side, meaning details of design, plants like dracaena magenta plant, color, texture, etc.
In an informal garden design, however, the balance would have to be maintained through an equilibrium of interests. For example, picture yourself looking from a patio out across the private area to a terminal feature such as a bench or a birdbath. Since the garden is not formal, no obvious symmetrical balance will be apparent. However, assume that to the left of the terminal feature there is the tall, prominent spike of an upright evergreen. In a typical symmetrically balanced picture, a second specimen of the same type of tree would stand at the right of the birdbath in the same relative position.
However, in order to achieve balance in an unsymmetrical manner (or, as it is called, “occult balance”) we use, not the same type plant for a counter-balance, but something else that will hold our attention just as forcefully as does the upright evergreen. It might be a very striking dark green evergreen of spreading type just to the right of the terminal feature. In spite of the fact that the two evergreens are absolutely different in shape and texture, they are still in balance as far as our attention is concerned. This type of balance is not too easily conceived or noticed by the casual observer, but he will be unconsciously pleased by the effect. To the more experienced observer the good taste and careful planning of the gardener will be immediately apparent.
The two elements most easily worked into the plan for a small property are balance and repetition; Sequence is more difficult. Of the three, repetition is perhaps the most important, and undoubtedly the one that you will use most easily and most frequently. Through the use of all three you will achieve landscape harmony.
Another factor involved in a good landscape composition is the matter of rhythm. An example would be the repetition over and over again of some identical item at regular intervals, like the beat in music.
Picture a formal garden area enclosed by a formal hedge so clipped as to give an effect of square pillars every so many feet apart with the top of the hedge between them forming a gentle curve from the top of one pillar to the top of the next, swooping down between them much as a chain would. The constant repetition of pillars and gentle curves one after another would cause a definite feeling of rhythm as one looked down the length of the hedge. This could be done on a small scale in an average backyard just as effectively as on an estate.
Do not become confused or discouraged by these technical terms and discussions of apparently complicated items. On small properties many of them can be omitted and a very pleasing garden still result. Let me repeat that the two most important objectives for the beginner to work toward are repetition and balance.
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