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The Landscape Design Element that Makes a Big Difference

landscape design contrast, contrast of blue sage with yellow arborvitae

What’s the difference between a ho-hum landscape and one with “Wow!”? Contrast. Use different textures, forms, and colors in the landscape to excite the eye. Contrast is not the same as conflict when it comes to landscape design. Distinct differences add excitement and draw your visitor’s attention to interesting plant material. If your garden feels a bit boring, you know what to do—add contrast!

Textural contrast provides visual excitement, especially since woody plant material typically has only fleeting moments of color. The strong contrast of coarse foliage against fine-textured leaves is a great look! It is easy to find bread-and-butter shrubs with fine to medium textured foliage, but finding large-leaved plants is more of a challenge. The effort pays off with striking landscape displays.

The form and natural habit of plant material can vary quite a bit. Try to provide contrast in forms by using spiked shapes with mounded shapes and weeping shapes with low, flat ground covers. Juxtapose fine-textured foliage next to coarse, dramatic leaves to provide emphasis to the different silhouettes. Use a delicate hand with contrasting forms in your landscape design, just as you would in adding spices while cooking a soup. Think through each variation carefully, so the silhouettes you create provide a pleasing outline.

Contrasting colors spice up a design, too. There are lots of color combinations and harmonies you can try in your landscape designs. You can mix colors opposing each other on a color wheel for a pleasant, contrasting color display. A design of only one color can create a sophisticated, monochromatic color scheme, but opposing colors add pop! Mix different types of color harmonies.  Analogous schemes use colors near each other on the color wheel, and contrasting/complimentary schemes mix opposites on the color wheel. When combining different colors, try to let one color dominate the scheme and the other act as an accent.  That way, the colors don't fight for attention. Color can pull together your design into a cohesive whole and provide neutral breaks in disparate and clashing color schemes.

The differences in life are what make things exciting. Embrace conflicting textures, forms, and color to make them stand out when juxtaposed. Contrast elevates landscape design.