Balance in garden design

Updated: May 20, 2021

When we look at an object we evaluate its physical presence, its mass, our brain automatically considers its dimensions in relation to us and to the space in which it sits.

Why it's important to achieve balance when we design a space?

When we enter in a new environment, without even realising, we tend to evaluate the size, proportion and balance of all the objects in it and the whole experience of the space will depend from this evaluation. When a space is well balanced, this suggests a feeling of order, harmony and cohesion that will make us happier, comfortable and more relaxed.

With our eyes and brain we measure the objects in front of us in every direction, length, width and height.

How to create balance in a garden.

The easiest situation is with the formal garden, where geometry leads the structuring of the space and it guides the forms to be mirrored one from another, as if there was a straight line from the viewers point of view and that line was a mirror; left and right would look the same way.

This used to happen in many gardens typologies, from the Egyptian ones to the Italian and French gardens. In the middle we could find a linear path, a water rill, a central fountain or statue, lines of trees heading up to the main house.

Achieving mass balance in these cases is easy and harmony within this garden gives a feeling of quiet stillness and formality.

However balance can be achieved also in more informal ways, always following the rule of mass juxtaposition. If we have a volume on the right side (that could be a garden house, a pergola, or an existing tree) we could fill the left side with an object having a similar weight to our eyes. For example if we have a pergola 2m tall, we can counterbalance it with a small tree or a group of tall shrubs.

The visual weight of an object can be increased or decreased with distance too, the farther the object the smaller we perceive it. A medium-sized shrub 1.5m tall could then be balanced by a bigger tree 3m tall placed further from our point of view.

It is also useful to consider that whatever is built in a garden - think about walls, trellis and pergolas, gazebos, path

s, ponds etc - have a size that will remain the same in 10 years time and beyond, while it's not the same for plants, especially trees that can grow much from the moment we plant them.

For urban gardens in particular, planting trees even in a small space could help decrease the awkward feeling of being surrounded by tall buildings and it would be useful for privacy too.

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