My mission this year is to teach others the art of landscaping and I’m on a quest to teach anybody who will listen the five basic principles of landscape design. In previous articles, I have discussed balance, repetition and scale. I purposely started with the easiest ones so I wouldn’t scare anyone away! I’m just kidding, as my goal is to help you learn and hopefully enjoy and improve your own personal space at your house!
It is now time to move on to dominance, and in a future article, unity. If you have done your homework, you remember that I believe repetition to be the most important design concept of all. Since your natural tendency is to not repeat elements, you must consciously make yourself be repetitious. On the other hand, the most natural inclination most gardeners have is to put way too many dominant features or focal points in their landscapes.
Dominance is the authority of one element of a design composition to all the other parts. Due to the dominant element’s size, shape, texture, color or location, all other elements of the composition are subordinate to it. It’s important that this principle is used sparingly. As a rule, there should be only one dominant element in each view you look at.
Notice that I don’t mention landscaping in any part of the definition. As I have said many times before, “Design is design”. The principles are exactly the same whether you are practicing interior design, floral design, and landscape design or even dressing yourself in the morning.
Think about it. You wouldn’t wear all your favorite jewelry at the same time, would you? Nor would you hang every photo and knick-knack on the same wall, right? What makes a focal point dominant is its ability to attract attention and “draw the eye”.
This is a very powerful tool and should be used with restraint and caution. It’s very easy to overpower a landscape with dizzying array of bold colors, shapes and objects all shouting at the same time “Hey, look at me! Look at me!” Disneyland is usually not the look most are trying to create not to mention you would need half of their staff to maintain it!
The ideal landscape is one that mostly permits restful repose for the eye with just occasional excitement, not one that blinds you or makes you a bit nervous gazing upon it. Landscaping is really a lot like writing or speaking. Exclamation points at the end of every single sentence would be way too much to bear.
Be extremely careful when shopping online or at your local garden center, as the same features that make eye-catching elements into focal points also make them into habit-forming impulse buys. These items want to be seen.
Thoroughly think through your landscape before implementing a final design. Force yourself to come up with a master plan and a theme and then stick with it. Look at your house and garden from all angles, decide what (and where) the focal points will be. Remember; try to limit yourself to one dominant focal point per obvious view.
Potential views include looking at the front of your house from the street, looking at your backyard from the patio, looking down both sides of your house and looking out the larger windows into the landscape. Possible focal points to consider are an attractive front door, a beautiful or bold specimen plant, a birdbath, fountain or piece of garden art.
As a general rule, try to stick with your theme. If your overall design concept features an older home and antique furnishings, perhaps a vintage piece of statuary or rustic garden shed would be a good focal point. On the other hand, if your general theme is more current and flashier, a shiny piece of modern art might be in order. And of course, striking or unusual landscape specimens, whether contorted, weeping or fastigiated, all make great eye-catchers!
Question: Jimmie, can you recommend to me a couple of good hearty lower-tier holly shrubs that do well here for my existing landscape? I’m tired of having to plant too many flowers for the lower area in all my beds and just need something permanent there. Thank you for your time, I really enjoy reading your columns! I feel I am learning something new each time I read them! – Jackie P. in Prosper
Answer: Hi Jackie, there are many choices I could give you for permanent second tier plantings depending on what else you have existing in your landscape. If you are specifically wanting holly recommendations then probably your best two would be Dwarf Youpon Holly and Carissa Holly. If you prefer a little more natural look than structured such as those then go with a dwarf Nandina or Giant Liriope, or you may want to consider perennial color that comes back every year that you don’t have to replant.
Question: Jimmie, is it too early to put out pre-emergent or fertilizer on my grass? Is there a specific date to go by or how the grass looks? I know you’re a busy guy and appreciate your time sir! – Johnny L. in Prosper
Answer: Hi Johnny, each year can be slightly different however as a general rule of thumb go by these dates:
March 1st, June 1st, and September 1st — Apply Pre-Emergent
March 15th, June 15th and September 15th — Apply Fertilizer
Until next time…. Happy Gardening!
Jimmie is a Prosper resident and the owner of Absolutely Bushed Landscaping Company, an award winning, family and veteran owned and operated business created in 1980 to provide the highest quality custom Outdoor Renovation available to homeowners in the Dallas Ft. Worth area.