Orchestrating your Landscape

Orchestrating Landscape Design plants

We’ve been discussing many different elements of landscape design. In order to maximize artistry, we need to pull these separate elements all together, similar to how a composer or musician pulls their music together. While I define music as the artistic placement of notes, Mirriam-Webster defines music as “…The science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity”. Defining the artistic layout of a landscape could be very similar; The orderly placement of all the elements we have discussed in prior articles, in succession, in combination, and in a visual relationship, to produce a composition having unity and continuity.

Any non-musician who has attempted to play a piano realizes that hitting random notes does not produce a pleasant result. The same can be said about the landscape, if you place random plants and elements with no planned relationships between them, it’s unlikely to be appealing. In landscaping, your notes are going to be the colors, textures, lights, and shapes. We have an infinite number of notes, or elements, with which to work. How we put these elements together so they may have a symbiotic and harmonious relationship, is where we have our opportunity to orchestrate our landscape.

First, let’s discuss simple tunes versus complex tunes. Simple music is, generally, more quickly appealing and may be appreciated without total focus. In fact, most musicians don’t appreciate the Top 40 most popular songs in their catalogue, because it’s usually relatively simple. Complex music needs time to absorb, needing to be heard several times with concentration, so that the patterns and subtle relationships of musical elements may be truly appreciated and recognized.

The landscape can be the same way. A complex landscape may first seem chaotic, whereas a simpler landscape can be more immediately appealing. For example, putting a planting arrangement that has many different types of flowers together would, probably, not be attention grabbing on a busy street, where there isn’t enough time to appreciate it by the cars speeding by. But, a big swath of white petunias with a simple accent of pink petunias, will attract attention in such a chaotic setting. However, the same planting of petunias by a pool in the back yard may get boring to someone able to sit and appreciate the display.

Personally, I prefer to combine complex and simple. A simple scenario, around a complex arrangement, can frame the complex point of interest, and provide relief and peacefulness from the complex, while still providing immediate appeal without being boring.

A few tricks to help us accomplish this are to think about a chorus, and finding a foundation or unifying plants that can be used in different micro-areas to provide repetition and rhythm. Consider balance, in how you can plan your landscape, not just traditionally and horizontally, but vertically, with trees and other tall elements. Place materials with a variety of texture and colors to provide accents and contrast. Voids and masses can also provide simple scenarios, and along with lines, direct the eye to see the landscape as a song of your creation.

And, like all art, this is philosophy- not rules. Concepts are meant to be broken and have exceptions in order to let creativity flourish.