How to Use Forms to Shape Your Landscape Design in Tennessee

 In Garden Tips

In the pursuit of the perfect garden, you must verse yourself in the principles of landscape design. In our previous post, we examined the use of lines and how they’re used to establish your landscape design’s foundations. 

The next layer is forms – the shapes that indicate particular features and organize your landscape’s spatial properties. Forms give your landscape design its 3D properties. 

This post will look at how you can create and manipulate forms to design your dream landscape. 

Defining Forms in Sustainable Landscape Design

Also referred to as shape, forms are made by drawing outlines that enclose a space to form a three-dimensional object. You can find forms in both hardscape and softscape features. They establish dominant visual elements within a garden and organize a landscape spatially. 

The above helps establish the placement of garden features and establishes its design aesthetic. Forms can indicate a wide array of elements, including wooden or stone features, plant beds, garden ornaments, and pathways. 

Forms may also be informal as well – not just human-made – and can be created with meandering lines, organic edges (composed of plant matter), or fragmented edges. 

Geometric Forms in Sustainable Landscape Design

Remember geometry back in school? Hopefully, that doesn’t trigger any unwanted classroom memories, but you probably remember diagrams and discussions about various polygons and their qualities. 

When it comes to forms in sustainable landscape design, polygons form the basis of the shapes you can find in a garden. 

There are three main types of polygonal forms: circular polygons, square polygons, and irregular polygons. Let’s take a quick look at each category. 

Circular Polygons

Circular polygonal forms can look like full circles, or they can be half circles. They can also take the form of circle segments, and designers often combine lines to create arcs and tangents that delineate circular objects. 

Circular polygons don’t have to be perfectly round either. Ellipses and ovals also fall into the circular polygon category, and they are used to create variety and interest. Circles have a unique effect on the eye, too, because they draw one’s attention to the object’s center. That’s why circular forms are ideal for creating sharp focal points. 

Square Polygons

Some of the most recognizable landscape features you know of assume a squarish form. 

Elements comprised of bricks and tiles and stones often take a square shape, as do metallic and timber structures. Square forms don’t have to look boring either. Designers can segment them into various patterns, creating grid-like designs, interlocking, and even more irregular, overlapped patterns.

Irregular Polygons

Polygonal forms that fall into the irregular category have many sides with straight edges. With that said, they’re not squares and rectangles. Triangles are one of the more popular irregular polygons. I find myself very often designing with triangles by repeating a color or texture in three various points on a plan.

The fact that polygons with irregular shapes can have an uneven number of sides or angled edges makes them a prime target for homeowners who want striking designs in their landscape. 

However, irregular polygons’ main precaution is to use them sparingly because they can look too busy and messy when overused. 

Naturalistic Forms in Sustainable Landscape Design

Of course, not all forms you find will be neatly shaped and sculpted into recognizable figures. Just look at nature: how plants grow and how water flows don’t conform to polygonal shapes’ orderliness. 

Describing the shape of these elements is easier when we associate them with familiar objects. These garden elements fall under the category of natural forms. Before we get into examples of these shapes, it’s important to understand also that these more unusual forms show non-traditional lines and edges. For example:

  • Meandering lines you incorporate will mimic the natural shape of rivers and streams and are often curved and not uniform. In a garden, landscape architects can use meandering lines to shape pathways and plant beds. 
  • Organic edges resemble the edges of organic materials such as plant forms and foliage and inorganic materials like rock. In a garden, organic edges delineate boundaries between rock features and plant ones. 
  • Fragmented edges look like broken pieces of material scattered from the edge. Typically, you can find these edges in stones or pavers and are incorporated into patios and walkways. 

Naturalistic forms are most noticeable among plants. For the sake of landscape design, you should look into choosing your plants wisely because plant forms can genuinely allow you to take advantage of all dimensions. 

For example, with tree forms, you can exploit their height and width to create three-dimensional designs in your garden intentionally. 

Trees can look rounded, vase-like, spikey, pyramidal, oval, or columnar. You can alternate between these shapes or stick with a single shape to establish a pattern within your garden. 

Shrub forms are smaller than tree forms but can serve as complementary “set pieces” to larger trees, especially since they tend to have similar shapes. Groundcover forms are subtle because they’re plants that grow horizontally on the ground. Nevertheless, they tend to grow in unique patterns, including spreading, sprawling, clumping, and matting varieties. 

You can combine these ground plant forms with tree and shrub forms to create an exciting variety and contrast for onlookers to see. 

Examples of Forms in Landscape Design 

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In the example above, this pathway features two layers of form. The first layer is the pathway’s stone slabs – they take the form of square polygons, rectangular or square. 

The pathway’s form itself – a looping and arcing one, suggests it’s a circular polygon, albeit not a complete circle. As you can see, you can fiddle around with form in multiple ways to create a more layered and complex design. 

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This garden features multiple forms as well, but the most noticeable ones are the trees and shrubs. The trees are spikey and angular, while the shrubs beneath and surrounding them are rounded. The juxtaposition of these harder and smoother plant shapes creates a pleasing contrast that draws the eye’s attention. 

Get Your Landscape Design in Shape by Using Forms

The complexity (or simplicity), depth, and breadth of your landscape design are primarily established with form. 

Human eyes are drawn to recognizable patterns, and shapes help us make sense of objects. By incorporating a mix of polygons and free-form shapes, you can give your landscape design a multi-dimensional “pop” that will turn it from average to extraordinary. And you’ll have a much greater appreciation for its fine details. 

If what I’ve described above seems a bit confusing, I can recommend a great book to help reinforce some of these ideas. From Concept to Form in Landscape Design by Grant Reid FASLA is an excellent resource.

Do you need help sculpting your garden design into something that will wow you and your neighbors? Get in touch with me for a consultation.

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