Shape and form One big happy family

I think of shape as being the two-dimensional arrangement of the elements of the landscape when viewed from above, whereas form is the three-dimensional space that things occupy when viewed from ground level. Both are important elements of garden design.

Getting into shape

Decide on a shape family for your landscape layout. You can choose among the many different families, including rectilinear, curvilinear, angular, or freeform. A landscape made up of strongly geometric shapes can be very formal (if it's symmetrical) or elegantly restful (such as a Japanese garden).

Figure 5-3:

Plans showing bad (left) and good repetition.

On the other end of the spectrum, a free-form approach is best suited to the naturalistic garden. But even the free-form is not free of form; the form is just more subtle. Study wild natural areas to see how trees, rocks, and streams are arranged very beautifully yet without apparent geometry — they're products of the natural forces in the system. If you can do that in your yard, you'll really achieve something great.

Whatever you do, make your shape family consistent and relate it to other shapes that may be present on the site. Pair round shapes with rolling hills and rectangles with a boxy modern house, or contrast them for a different look. Figure 5-4 shows bad and good uses of shape.

Circular patio matches curves of lawn

Circular patio matches curves of lawn

Italian Patios With Boxwoods And Rocks
doesn't fit with cuvy lawn

In good form

Closely related to shape is the form, or 3D outline, of plants and other features. A sheared boxwood hedge has a strict rectilinear form, whereas an Italian cypress or poplar tree has an upright, column-like form. And a spreading oak tree grows in the form of a broad canopy. Each form has a particular role to play. The boxwood leads you along a path, the upright cypress is like a giant exclamation point, and the oak embraces and shelters the area beneath it.

Include some plants with strap-shaped leaves such as Iris or some boldly-shaped succulents like Agaves in your plantings. They act as points of emphasis in the design, and the contrast they make with the leafier textures and shrubbier forms pleases the eye and is enlivening.

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