Landscape Design Basics - Forms in Landscapes

Shape defines an enclosed space, while form represents the three-dimensional mass of that shape. Both hardscape and plants embody form, often dictating the garden's style and spatial organization. The structures, plant beds, and garden ornaments establish the garden's overall form theme.


Circular FormI - Circles, whether full or divided into segments, serve as focal points or connectors in designs. They can be stretched into ovals or ellipses, offering versatility and visual interest in hardscape and lawn panels.

Square Form - Squares are versatile for features like stepping stones, bricks, and timber structures due to their ease in construction. They can create grid patterns and intricate designs by aligning or overlapping edges.

Irregular Polygons - Polygons, multi-sided shapes with straight edges like triangles, offer uniqueness but should be used thoughtfully to avoid overly complex forms; simplicity often yields the best results.


Meandering Lines - These lines artfully replicate the sinuous flow of rivers or streams, exhibiting smooth, deeply curved undulations. Their versatility is showcased in pathways, plant bedlines, or dry stream beds, adding an element of intrigue by guiding viewers around corners and revealing new vistas and hidden spaces.

Organic Edges - Emulating the irregular contours found in natural materials like foliage or rocks, organic edges bring a rugged charm. Commonly found in rock gardens or along dry creek beds, these edges also grace hardscape boundaries with purposeful irregularities.

Fragmented Edges - With a semblance to scattered broken pieces, fragmented edges create a gradual fade on patios or walkways. Their intentional design lends an aesthetic of gradual dissolution, evoking a subtle, harmonious transition within the landscape.


Plant Forms - A plant's form is its enduring quality, standardized and recognizable. How plants group together creates a unique collective form. While contrast in forms draws attention, excessive differences can lead to disorder. Natural shapes should dominate compositions. Perspective alters how a tree appears, shaping voids between plants as convex or concave spaces.

Tree Forms - Round, columnar, oval, pyramidal, vase-shaped, and weeping—serve both aesthetics and function. Each type suits specific purposes: round or oval trees create shade, columnar or pyramidal ones work as screens, and weeping trees stand out as focal points.

Shrub Forms - Upright, vase-shaped, arching, mounding, rounded, spiky, cascading, irregular—suit group or single placements. Mounding and spreading shrubs excel en masse, while cascading or vase-shaped ones thrive as stand-alone features.


Groundcover Forms - Groundcovers exhibit various forms—matting, spreading, clumping, sprawling, and short spikes. They thrive when grouped, enhancing their impact as small, low-lying plants.


Properties of Form - Form's strength lies in its recognizability; even a partial outline can trigger recognition. Familiarity allows the mind to complete the picture, and repeated forms create patterns, fundamental in organizing landscapes.

Form dictates a garden's style—geometric, straight-edged forms signify formal gardens like contemporary or Italian styles. Informal gardens mirror naturalistic, organic shapes. Unity in design stems from form compatibility—while contrast in a couple of forms adds emphasis, cohesion arises from similarities among others for a harmonious look.