Designing with Simple Shapes


Last Spring I taught a workshop at The Bellevue Botanical Garden along with my friend and colleague George Lasch.  My job was to come up with the PowerPoint to lead the class through the what we were going to teach them.  The workshop was entitled ‘Create The Garden of Your Dreams’. 

Taking this job very seriously, I got caught up in the notion that I did not want to cheat these motivated students out of my design process and how I actually design gardens.  Since this was targeted toward the general public, I had to boil it down to very basic ideas.  It was torture to pull apart the design process as all we designers know…Most of the time I am mentally moving in circles while contemplating so many different variables, levels of space and constraints when formulating a landscape layout.  It is absolutely not a linear process…at least for me! 

One of the first important concepts was:  Use simple shapes to create your garden spaces.  I am a purist and did know this is not how everyone ‘does’ landscape design.  I like strong geometry and bold shapes and the only way I could be authentic was to teach them my style, methods and philosophy. 

Rule #1, use simple shapes to divide the space.  There are two types of space:   #1 People spaces and #2 Plant spaces.  People generally inhabit the flat spaces.  This includes, paths, patios, decks and lawn.  Plants inhabit flat, bumpy, steep or sloping spaces in planting beds or containers.  Sometimes plant spaces do not get to be serene or bold shapes, but irregular or odd shapes.   Plant spaces can mask over and hide non pleasing shapes left in the landscape after the people spaces have been designed.  They key:  A good design considers the relationship between the people and plant spaces.  Often the plant spaces are cheated into tiny beds were the plants will quickly outgrow the space and become an eyesore to its audience.  The balance of the two types of spaces is important because I strongly believe, we all feel better when plants surround us and soften our built environment.  

Strong shapes in the people spaces are balanced by the softening of plants.  There is no need to be afraid of pristine circles, ovals, squares and rectangles. If sufficient space is given to plants, so that there is enough room for several layers of texture, this will create the seduction to lure you in to the clean, clear space shapes.  This contrast of ‘billowy’ and ‘stark’, creates calm if done with artistry.  Go boldly into your garden! 

Here are some examples of layouts using strong geometry.

Example 1


Example 2

Seattle based Landscape Designer

Example 3

Circle on Axis


Callie CullumComment