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SULIS - Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series.
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Elements of Design

We know that unity is achieved in a landscape design through the appropriate application of the principles of design. We also know that principles of design are demonstrated in the way plants are selected and organized in the landscape design. This process actually begins in the draft landscape design and continues throughout the process of finalizing the completed landscape plan.

The criteria used in the selection and organization of specific plants are known as elements of design. Think of the elements of design as the characteristics that describe a plant.

The number of design elements and the order in which they are considered will change with the specifics of a particular plan. However, some are more important and should be considered first; we will call these the primary elements of design. Other characteristics, which can be almost limitless in number, are called secondary elements of design. Sometimes a secondary element of design becomes more important than a primary element.

Determining the elements of design to be used in the selection of plants not only makes those choices easier, but more specific to the plant and plant groupings outlined in the draft design.

Likewise, a great deal of flexibility is created in this process as many plants will meet the same set of design elements. Instead of considering only one plant for a specific "spot" in the landscape, any number of plant species possessing those design elements can fit that "spot."

This process is extremely important to the sustainability of a landscape. If a designer thinks of only one particular plant when designing a landscape, he/she is stuck with all the characteristics of that plant, some of which may not fit that particular situation.

Primary Elements of Design


Secondary Elements of Design

Secondary elements of design are the additional characteristics that are considered in a plant. The greater the number of secondary elements, the fewer the plant varieties that will fit. Secondary elements are also very important to the sustainability of a design as they include not only positive traits, but problems a plant may have (disease, insect, soil, and environmental).

Examples of Secondary Elements of Design: Selecting Specific Plants Using Primary and Secondary Elements of Design

In the draft design, the landscape spaces are composed of individual plants, plant groupings, and hard-features.

The process of selecting specific plants that will make up each space begins with the understanding that each hard-feature, plant and plant grouping is a separate entity. Think of these individuals and groupings as pieces in the landscape design puzzle. It is necessary to study each piece carefully to know where, and how, it will fit into the puzzle.

This allows the designer to focus on the functionality, maintainability, environmental impact, cost effectiveness, and aesthetics of each space in the landscape. Once the selection of each individual or the design of each grouping is completed, they can be blended together through the use of appropriate design principles, bringing unity to the overall design.

For example selecting plants begins with a visualization process. Designers must see in their mind what a particular grouping, or piece of the puzzle, will look like in an installed landscape. Once this is done, this idea can be transferred to paper in the form of a sketch for review and continued refinement.

These sketches are not fancy and may not be to scale, but they aid the designer in the process of using elements of design to select plants. After a designer has determined the necessary elements of design , he or she can select the specific plants to fit the requirements of that particular plant grouping.

An example of selecting plants using elements of design.

 
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