Designing Your Views

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Designing Your

You can lead the eye wherever you want to.

Controlling the view Control the Views.

Work around existing features
Make whatever you add complementary to what you already like and will be keeping in the place.

Plan to erase whatever does not please you.
Through your design, you will want to show the virtues and hide the defects of your landscape situation.

 “Make the longest view into the longest vista and give it a focus.”
Rosemary Verey

Donna's view

Often the farthest away places of a property are important starting points in the design thought process. Determining where you can create your best focal places and destinations can guide the heights and breadths, shaping and relational placement of built and planted features.

 “Build around a vertical point.”  
Beth Chatto

 A strong vertical feature, such as a tree, structure or any individual element, can create a clear dominant focus, making a comfortable beginning place for your thoughts on the design of the surrounding areas. This applies in every scale, from grand vistas to planted troughs.

The vertical point does NOT have to be in the middle.
It is often better somewhat off center unless the design is formally symmetrical.

“If we look at a satisfying planting
(whether it is) a small garden or a large border, you find
it is dominated by one thing, with lesser things arranged around it.”

Graham Stuart Thomas

 People seem to like to know where to begin and complete their visual experiences, where to rest their viewing and thoughts. By designing your views, you will organise the experience of viewing for yourself and others who experience the place.

You need both dominant and subsidiary shapes.

Flamingo relativesIf you have more than one principal dominant in a view, the various things of equal strength will compete for your attention all at once and so create a restless feeling for the viewer. It is usually more satisfying to arrange things so that there are clear dominants and subsidiaries arranged in a somewhat graded series with respect to one another, no matter how large or small the scale of your picture may be.
You will often want to break horizontal sweeps, but without creating too many primary focal places in any one view.

Subsidiary forms are just as important as the primary ones.
It is the relationships between  the dominants and subsidiaries that you need to thoughtfully establish.  All forms and sizes can have important roles in landscape composition.

Go to the Mother
It may help you to think of how a natural woodland edge is organised. The use of the light available results in plants of descending heights coming out to the margins.
When we imitate nature somewhat for our own landscapes, we are benefiting from eons of experiments the plants have done amongst themselves. What we see recurring in nature can feel right when we bring some  of that vision home to a similar ecotome.

There are helpful Universal Guidelines that you can seek out in matters like proportions which please most everyone, or ways to achieve balance and harmony in different aspects of your work, and I will also talk about such things in future articles.

The Viewer and the View

A vista needs a place from which to enjoy it.

BelvedereInsert a “place to be” by putting some seating there.

The Emperors of China made many special ‘places to be’ within the land contained in the “Forbidden City”, where they and their families were destined to spend so much of their lives. Many of them became very personally involved in the creation of the landscapes and gardens within those walls.
Contained in the Quianlong Emperor’s gardens of the Palace of Tranquility and Longevity is a special building from the late 1700’s called the “Belvedere of Viewing Achievements”. It was designed as a place dedicated to viewing and reflecting on all that was created in the landscape and on the achievements of their lives and those of their predecessors.

I would wish everyone such a Belvedere. Even a small one is good, a chair in a just right place. When you have spent time making your landscape, you too will have earned your views, so think about siting your best viewing locations right along with the views you will create.

There should be a focus from any usual place of viewing.
Where will you wandering most often? You will want your compositions to be particularly satisfying from the places you will experience frequently in your daily views and meanderings.

The scale of the compositions that matter in a location will depend upon the distance of the viewer to the view.

close up view
A picture seen typically from a certain distance should be made in a scale that will be most effective at that distance.
In close up places such as the foreground edges of planted beds or near your steps and paths, you will probably want things that are pleasing close up most all of the time. Basically, in the places you walk close to, things you choose should become more beautiful as you approach. There are certain ‘Sunday Best’  plants for the front row category, you just want to be choosy.

Thoughtfully combined tree and shrub shapes or wonderful plants with large, coarse or short lived foliage can perhaps be most satisfying when seen from further away. The attributes you cherish about them may be best shown at a distance, where modest character flaws, gangly legs or disappearing leaves can be masked by chosen plant associations in larger, layered plantings. Ephemeral plants you treasure can flower and disappear into populations of overspreading bed fellows whose good appearance will continue through the subsequent part of the year.

“Put as few obstacles and diverting lines as possible
between you and your view.”

Thomas Church           Gardens are for People

one flamingo
Wherever you have a nice view, whether technically what you see belongs to you or not, you will want to flatter that view and be careful not to compete with it or obscure it. If you had a real Flamingo distracting you it might be all right, but generally you wouldn’t want your planted composition or sculpture to try to compete with an ocean or other handsome natural view. You can enhance such scenery by greening the edges.

Everything seen together should look well together as a view.

Entry ViewUsually the composition should allow you to see through to more distant desirable views, except where you are after an enclosure or surprise effect.
When layering your landscape pictures, check carefully about the mature heights, breadths and textures of fore and mid-ground materials.
It is unfortunate that there are many mistakes in the attributed size classifications of particular kinds of plants, especially if the plant has been introduced in the last 20 years. Dwarf plants are slow growing, but when they are introduced, still too new to anticipate the mature sizes, yet sometimes guesstimates get into the literature and onto plant tags. Most times, the plants will end up larger than predicted, sometimes substantially. Thus it may be best to check a few recent and authoritative sources, or better yet, find someone who has one growing.

 “Take care of the corners
and the centers will take care of themselves.”

F.L.Olmstead [1]

The corners of a property are key elements in the shaping of the enclosure of personal grounds. The interior triangles of land they naturally form often become important focal places and key planting areas. Their careful shaping will suggest the forms of the places in between.

Go Around the Corners
Create corners with your fences or background plantings. If you don’t make a two sided corner, the fence or boundary planting may read visually as an unfinished straight line in space. In doing this, you will create interior triangular enclosures, focal ‘triangles’ where you can readily insert multiple layers of plant materials, and later, curves on the inward facing borders of your place. For multilayered plantings, such triangular spaces are often much easier to organize compositionally than strictly linear beds.

 There should be
“Nothing to detract from the picture in its season.”

Christopher Lloyd

 This is a cardinal rule in planning. If a kind of plant or anything else diminishes the beauty of a particular place just when other plants and most everything is lovely nearby, best re-site the detractor.

Whatever looks dead or messy when the things around it look good should probably go elsewhere. If it is a good plant in other ways, you can probably find it a place where it will be more enhancing, in a scene more suited to its annual time of beauty. You won’t want something that doesn’t green up in springtime nearby your lush early spring foliage and flowers. Hibiscus syriacus, for instance, is so late to leaf out that it inevitably causes people to worry whether theirs is alive or not. It will probably look great in August, if you chose a hardy variety.
Similarly, if you have ornamental onions such as A. Globemaster or A. Mars, their leaves will turn brown before their fabulous flowering time, so you will want to put them where their leaves will be automatically covered by bedmates.
And so forth.

Plant evergreens in front of the bare deciduous things.
For the sake of the green compositions in your winter views, deciduous woody things with messy sorts of habits may be better sited quietly behind, beside or above your better shaped and evergreen things. This way there is nothing unlovely in between you and your winter assets.

Bank the beds whenever possible, to keep the maximum in the view.
This technique is used by Jewelers, Caterers, Restauranteurs, Farmers and others
who tilt or bank their creations so details can more readily be seen.

Balsam Farms, Long IslandSimilarly, creating garden beds with a gentle pitch from the back to the front will help the plants contained to show well.
In the landscape, the embanking angle usually needs to be shallow to be sustainable in relation to erosion.
If it happens to be too steep where you want to plant, a bit of contour terracing or rock support may be helpful.Hosta embankmentTo accomplish an embankment easily, look for places on your property which are masonry materials,  “back support” for raising some earth up against to grow your plants at a slight angle. Unattractive masonry foundations, steps and corners can be softened in this way.

Consider a grade change in your land form.

raised bedGrade changes often lead to a feeling of increased space overall, making each part of the scene distinct. A raised bed can also lead to a greater intimacy in the experience you have of your plants and earth materials by bringing them closer to you and making them inviting to touch.

Adding edge stones can help make a raised place safer in relation to paws, feet and corded edge trimmers.
A line of handsome large-ish single stones well laid can be support enough for such a purpose, acting like a low stone wall. If an area is too steep for good planting, raising the edge may allow you to create a more level planting place, less susceptable to erosion. This is surely more handsome and enduring than the wooden perimeters often used to make ‘raised beds’.

The curves of the plant shapes themselves can allow a banked presentation to the view.

Pinus hillside creeper, fukozumi, Picea montgomerey, Cotinus

A similar principle is shown in the designed layering of your chosen plants with decreased heights from back to front.
Nature tends to accomplish this on its own in typical woodland margins.
Plants of different characteristic heights occupy all the possible ‘altitude’ niches there and, so layered, can share the light of the edge space.
By consciously arranging things this way with your plantings you can increase the diversity of plant materials in your views.

Ellen Cool

With many Thanks to my Clients for generously
allowing photos of my work in their landscapes to be used on this site.

[1] A Favorite saying of Olmstead, in “The American Gardener” Allen Lacy

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