Thursday, February 13, 2014

Using Lines to Advantage in a Garden Setting

Line defined: a long narrow mark or band, a straight or curved continuous extent of length without breadth, a contour or outline considered as a feature of design or composition, a notional limit or boundary, a length of cord, wire or other material serving a particular purpose...

"Sight line" defined: a line extending from an observer's eye to viewed object or area.

Jackson Pollock painting, Summer 1950, photo: Hans Namuth 

A simple line can be powerfully expressive thing.

It can speak volumes of the action that created it: the rapid downward slap of a brush loaded with paint or the fluid gestures of an arm as it loops the dripping paint brush over the surface of a blank canvas.

The gardening equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting!

The vertical line of a tree in Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON

In a garden, there are certain lines which the eye gravitates to and follows: the vertical line of a tree trunk, the curve of a pathway, a length of fence or the horizontal line of the horizon.

Brian Folmer's Botanical Garden near Walkerton, ON

The eye shoots along the simple straight line at high velocity. Speed lends a certain sense of drama to 
the distance the eye is able to cover so quickly.

Private Garden in Rosedale, ON

To pull off this kind high drama, you need to keep the eye focused and moving. 

I think this works best when the line of sight is created using a single material, in this case fine gravel. 

In this and the previous example, the plantings have been deliberately kept simple and repetitive to reinforce the linear perspective.

Private Garden, Forest Hill, Ontario

You might think that you need a big garden to effectively use the power of converging straight lines, but here we have a much more humble sized walkway as it intersects with a little courtyard just outside a suburban front door. 

The journey is not nearly as long, but the effect of projecting the eye in the direction of the urn is still quite effective.

This is the garden that actually got me thinking about the subject of this post. 

In this backyard garden nothing stops the eye from shooting rapidly down one side of the garden, across the back and up the opposite side. 

Unlike my earlier examples, here the rush with which the eye travels down the parallel straight lines of the flowerbed and fence does not work in the garden's favour. There are no design elements present that invite you to relax or linger. I think that the unintended result is that you are much more likely to be dismissive of what is actually quite a nice planting.

A simple quick fix for the problem would be to break up the fence line with vines, evergreens or small trees. She could also soften the line of rocks with plants that spill forward over the edges of the raised beds.

Curves are more relaxed than straight lines.

Private Garden on Ward Island near Toronto, Ontario 

When used well, a simple curve can feel like a bit of a grand gesture.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON

As evidenced by the next three photographs of Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, Ontario, 
the bold sweep of a curve also has a certain elegance to it.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON

Private Garden, Brampton, ON

The eye can still makes pretty swift work of a simple curve, but trek does not end as abruptly 
as it tends to with a straight line.

The curvaceous lines of the flowerbeds in this garden in Rosedale, Ontario are more complex and it only stands to reason that it takes the eye much longer to make the trip around the garden. 

Private Garden in Rosedale, Ontario

Again be aware that the objects you place in the garden can greatly impact your experience of it. Here a bench has been added to the previous image. The straight line of sight to the bench now trumps the sweeping curves of the flowerbeds. 

The effect on our perception is not better or worse; just different.

Brian Folmer's Botanical Garden near Walkerton, ON

When a line, in this case a path, vanishes into the distance it creates a sense of mystery. 

In terms of an overall strategy with your garden's design, it is not a bad idea to keep at least 
some of  your cards close to be vest.

Private Garden, Forest Hill, ON

This looks like a woodland park, but is actually a suburban garden in downtown Toronto.

Who knows what's just around the bend! And that uncertainty is intriguing.

Private garden in Milton, ON- More of this amazing garden in the coming weeks

There is no right or wrong in using lines in your garden's design.

 It's more about using lines to show off your plantings to their best advantage.


  1. Fascinating stuff Jennifer - when we moved here the garden structure was already laid out with a concrete path going straight from A to B, one end of the garden to the other - it has always been a bug bear of mine but the cost of removing said path and creating something different is out of the question - this is just one of the difficulties of having a long and narrow garden - the gardens you have shown seem to be really well thought out design-wise. I could do with you living round here, so you could offer some of your excellent advice.

    1. I had a simular concrete walk-way. It was a lot of work, but we tore out the concrete and actually used the huge chunks as a rain-water channel. I was able to solve two problems and set the stage for future landscape beds and design ideas.

  2. We are lucky that the entrance to our place curves around a stand of trees and opens onto the vista of barn and meadow. I remember how my heart leapt the first time I saw it. I still look forward to that tinge of pleasure each time I return home. I'm working on following the curve as I put in new beds and plant bulbs. I sometimes say my garden design is based on chaos theory, it would sound much more purposeful if I said I was following Jackson Pollock.

  3. I so love coming to visit you here, Jennifer!
    I always learn something new, and it is always such a pleasure to be able to visit these beautiful gardens. It's hard to choose, but I am quite sure it is the second to the last one here.
    Happy Valentine's Day to you, and thank you!

  4. What an excellent design post, Jennifer! It's important that the eye is "naturally" drawn around the garden so that specific plants or colour groupings can be noticed. I thought you were especially clever by not having the bench in one photo and then placing into the next. Quite a difference. Beautiful header, too.

  5. I have endeavored to use this concept while building my gardens these past few Summers. If the rabbits don't eat the ENTIRE landscape this Winter I look forward to posting photos come Spring! I was too tired to take photos after all the work we did last Summer! LOL!
    I so enjoy visiting your blog!



  6. Thanks for an interesting post Jennifer, no matter how big or small gardens we have, these principles can be applied. I like formal beds with straight lines and tidy bedding plants, but I also like curved paths where you can’t really see what’s coming next. My garden started out with straight lines and formal beds and have now ended up with a curved path with vertical objects along it. Not sure what’s coming next on my postage stamp size garden, but I am happy with my current design for now :-)

  7. Excellent post Jennifer! I am a huge fan of using curved lines in all my designs. I enjoyed how you brought your knowledge of art into the discussion of how a garden should flow. It is so true and important that the eye have a focal point and that all the elements of the design work together. I liked your comparison of the garden with and without the bench. It is amazing how much a difference one element can make and the bench creates an inviting feel. Gardens are a form of art!

  8. You really do post the most beautiful images and I draw a lot of inspiration from the points you raise - which I have often never even thought to take into consideration. My garden is looking better for it too :-)

  9. As I was typing a comment, something to the effect of "I love straight lines, but don't have any because of the way our land falls. Curved pathways just seem to work better here", I began thinking that surely there is somewhere I could put a couple of straight lines. Finally, I realized that there is one area where it just might work! Thanks for inspiring a brain-storming session!

  10. What I love to see in many of the photos is the focal point in many of the gardens. Beautiful!

  11. A beautiful lesson about gardening. Thank you, Jennifer !

  12. Lines do give sense of space..... very true.

  13. Lovely photos and great ideas, as usual. My garden is a bit too Jackson Pollock, without more chaos and less design.

  14. Some lovely examples of how the eye is drawn around a garden here. My favourite was the Private Garden, Forest Hill, ON, how relaxing that is. Lovely

  15. Such lovely garden pics! :-)

  16. A thought provoking post Jennifer. Recent garden design (cottage rather than contemporary) has promoted the curve and neglected the straight, but both have their place. I must admit I personally find the curve more enticing, and am more inclined to want to follow and find where it is leading to.You show lovely examples of both.

  17. Love this post. This is one design element I worked into my garden from the beginning. Still working on it as I soften the edges and lines and keep the curve in the beds. I even created a curving multiple level walled mason was not happy as it really challenged the end he loved it.

  18. I absolutely love Jackson Pollock! Straight lines bother me and I only have a few of them in the garden. I need soft, flowing lines. They just feel more satisfying.

  19. Give me curves any time in a garden, they are more natural. The photos of the straight lined beds made me cringe, thinking the person felt they had to plant along the fence. I feel that person is not a true gardener but one who must say "come look at my garden" when in reality it is not. It is a show off bed of perennials, dare I say chosen from CT?. Now that I've gotten that out of me system :), I enjoyed Marion's garden, she has a love for plants and their setting.

  20. Always intriguing and informational posts on garden design. I love looking at the different styles and how the addition of elements can detract or add to the beauty. You've given me more food for thought!

  21. I've always heard that curved lines are best in a garden, but I never thought much about why. You certainly demonstrate the difference, Jennifer, with the photos here, especially the straight border along the fence. Even before you mentioned it, I thought some vertical plants and some climbing vines up the fence would be nice--hey, I guess that means I'm learning when it comes to design! Such beautiful gardens!

  22. I'm enjoying these little lectures you've been providing with respect to garden elements. I do love little curved garden paths that disappear around a corner. Like paddling down a river, I always want to see what's around the next bend ;) Just love the look of the shady fern garden towards the end of the post ... reminds me of my parents' old place along a creek with giant wild ferns everywhere. Wendy x

  23. Seriously well presented post. In our many years of gardening we have gone through the curvy stage, the formal straight line and back again. Now that we have a teeny garden the (Private Garden, at Forest Hill, Ontario gives me ideas to develop this.

  24. Thank you for reminding other gardeners about the importance of lines of sight. We all tend to get wrapped up in a coveted new plant, or some attractive color and can forget some of the basics. I count myself as someone that needs reminding.

  25. Really glad to have discovered this blog. Perfectly presented lesson with fine images---my idea of what a blog should be. Thank you for taking the time.


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