Towing the Line

Towing the Line


Z Outdoors Generic

There are seven basic design principles. The first revolves around the use of lines as a design element
Story: Jacki Brown, MAILDM

Moving from one part of a garden to the next should be an experience akin to going on a journey. The front yard should signal a warm welcome for family and visitors alike, setting the scene for what is still to come and clearly leading you from footpath to front door.

The backyard should provide elements that draw you outside and then encourage you to explore and enjoy. This might be a meandering path that leads to a seating nook or a formal pond set on a central axis that leads the eye — and the visitor — on a direct path to a point of design interest, perhaps a classical sculpture or a stone-clad water wall.

There are seven design elements that are considered essential ingredients for a well designed landscape. Throughout the year we will explain each of these elements to help you gain a better understanding of the garden style that will best suit your site and your lifestyle. In this edition, we begin by introducing the design element of line.

The importance of lines
Indoors, surrounded by walls and ceilings, there is no “vanishing point” so going outdoors where we can see distant horizons gives our eyes visual relief.

Lines in the garden can be used to lead the eye and focus the attention of the viewer, or they can be employed to physically guide people through a space. Lines create focal points and influence the mood of the landscape. Different ways of using lines in a landscape have different effects on the emotions of the people viewing them — and on their state of mind. Lines are also critical to creating a sense of structure and developing the aesthetic appeal of a garden.

Depending on how you want to use your garden you can use lines to promote different functions. For example, is the garden just to be looked at and admired (that is, passive) or is it somewhere to spend time in and interact with others (that is, active).

What lines can achieve
How can lines be used and what effect do they have in landscape design? Generally there are straight, angular lines and curved, organic lines. The type of lines used will affect the mood of the people spending time in or viewing the garden and the speed at which they will move through the landscape.

Straight lines and rectangular shapes give a structured, ordered and purposeful feeling. On the other end of the spectrum, curved flowing lines throughout a landscape result in a calmer mood, which can feel more natural, soothing, and randomly placed. In a structured landscape, introducing curved lines can make it seem less overwhelming.

Circles can give the impression of enclosure and a feeling of being embraced or surrounded by the landscape. They draw the eye into and around them, like the lines in the centre of a flower that direct bees where to land. Curling lines create a fun and playful mood and suit landscapes for children’s play or those who are children at heart.

Zigzags and sharp angles give an impression of energy and excitement, but in the wrong place, particularly small spaces, they can create tension.

Long straight lines have a strong impact. They draw attention directly to the point at the end of the line. Such lines can either be utilised for effect and to introduce a sense of drama or softened with interruptions to the line. Long curves provide more of a relaxed journey-like effect, which encourages slower movement through the landscape.

Crossing lines create interest and draw attention to the intersection point. It resembles the “vanishing point” that is created on the horizon — a sight commonly seen when traveling along long straight roads or paths.

How to design with lines 
Lines can be created with hard landscape elements such as paving, retaining and garden walls, planters, sculpture, water features, ponds and pools, arches and structures such as pergolas. Lines are also formed by soft landscaping, including plants, branches, water, as well as shadow and light.

Lines can be used to attract attention towards a feature or to distract the eye away from unpleasant elements. Lines can be used to take you on a journey from one focal point to the next, either physically or visually.

The interior and exterior lines of the house can be considered within the landscape so when viewed through windows the vista is accentuated within your property to draw attention.

How many lines to use
Manmade things usually have many lines, often leading to a mélange of conflicting angles. The effect can be haphazard. Nature, on the other hand, tends to blend one object (a boulder, tree, creek) into another and lines only emerge where different types of natural elements start and finish.

When you have many lines crowding a space the effect is a busy feeling of movement, while minimal lines in a large space or an area of heavy texture can give a calmer feeling — and ensure that the lines have a greater design impact.

You also need to consider the spacing of lines — random spacing has a more relaxed look while carefully measured and regimented lines give a sense of order and uniformity.

Integration is important
When there are dominant line styles in the existing architecture, or the surrounding buildings, the lines of the landscape need to be integrated harmoniously. This can be done either by contrasting the line style, or complementing it. Angular architecture can be softened with the landscape style, or the sharp angles can be echoed in the landscape surfaces and planting.

Garden style examples
Formal: sense of symmetry, balanced design features, bold defining lines, clear points of focus, repetition of elements, clipped plants.
Contemporary: clearly defined structure, clean lines, simplified sometimes minimalist hard element lines, architectural and coloured foliage.
Bush garden: organic, soft, natural, flowing design, relaxed and muted lines, use of natural plant forms, random placement of elements.

This article was prepared by Jacki Brown and the team at ecodesign on behalf of the Australian Institute of Landscape Designers & Managers (AILDM). If you would like to find an AILDM member in your area, visit the website: