You may wonder what seemingly abstract terms like "form" have to do with backyard landscape design. You may object that you're not painting a landscape, after all; you're just putting plants in the ground. Yet it is not coincidental that backyard landscape design shares some terminology with the world of art. The backyard is your canvas; your landscape design skills will determine the beauty of the resulting picture.
The element of form is defined as the shape of a plant and the structure of its branching pattern. For a picture illustrating form, see Page 1. Trees come in many shapes (especially if pruned), including columnar and globular shapes. Likewise, tree forms range structurally from having the stiffly upright branches of Lombardy poplar trees to the droopy quality of a weeping willow. The form of individual components of a plant also needs to be considered. For example, the leaf form of one type of tree can be very different from that of another type of tree. Relative leaf size, meanwhile, helps determine plant texture (see picture).
Since texture is primarily a visual matter in landscape design, we often rely on the relative size of a plant's leaves to draw conclusions about its perceived texture. Yes, plant texture is highly relative: it refers to how the surface of the object is perceived, relative to the objects around it. Thus the plant texture of one bedding plant, for example, might be considered more or less coarse than that of an adjacent plant, due to differences in leaf size.
The element of line refers to the fact that the viewer's eye movement or flow can be governed by the arrangement of plants and their borders. Eye movement is unconsciously influenced by the way plant groupings fit or flow together, both on the horizontal and vertical planes. For a picture illustrating line, see Page 3.
Enough about the basic elements, you say? Good: let's move on to the principles you'll apply to your backyard landscape design. Because the effective application of these principles in your own backyard can raise the value of your real estate signficantly.
With the basic elements defined, it is time to put them to practical use. In planning a landscape design it is necessary to work with the "principles" that stem directly from the basic elements. How effectively you implement these principles will determine the impact of your landscaping upon the viewer -- be it yourself or a prospective buyer.
Since this introduction to backyard landscape design is meant as a practical guide, the goal is not to provide abstract definitions, but examples that the do-it-yourselfer can implement immediately in a backyard landscape design. In the following discussion of the principles of landscape design on Page 3, note how often the basic elements from Pages 1 and 2 appear. If you understand these five basic elements from Pages 1 and 2, then the following examples on Page 3 should demystify the process of using those elements to apply the principles of backyard landscape design....