Key Principles of Landscape Design

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photograph of landscape design and construction project in south park san diego

Photography by: Hale Production Studios

When it comes to landscape design, comfort is key. Finding the right ratio for your enclosure means you’ll need to decide the horizontal edge to the vertical edge.

Before deciding how tall the “walls” should be, you need to know how much ground space you have. Someone unfamiliar with the Law of Significant Enclosure might assume lower walls are always best, even when you have ample ground space. After all, the more open a space feels the better, right? A ratio that favors the vertical edge too much, and you’re risking making people feel trapped inside those high walls.  But if you build walls that are too low, they won’t define the space – it won’t feel like an enclosure at all.  So what’s the magic number?

Luckily, studies in behavioral psychology have already answered this question for us! It’s been found that a 3:1 ratio of distance to height is ideal. So that means if you have 15 feet of horizontal edge, you should aim to have a wall that is 5 feet high. An enclosure with the proper ratio can make us feel safe, protected, and free. Landscape construction that follows the Law of Significant Enclosure can help you create a space that feels like it was made just for you.


With a long-established history that is founded in the core principles of geometry, it’s hard to ignore the importance of regulating lines. The use of regulating lines is perhaps best understood in traditional architecture, and understanding landscape architecture is pretty important to creating a cohesive and organized outdoor pace. 

A regulating line is ‘a design concept which uses proportions of geometry in buildings giving it harmony and order’. They are imaginary lines that help arrange the elements of your design in such a way that these elements relate to one another cohesively.  Your goal is to visualize the way individual pieces or parts will relate to other parts and to the whole picture – you want to always be aware of the positions and relations of shapes. Any number of features can be used to establish a regulating line, such as the edge of a building, the property boundary, a doorway, a prominent tree, etc. Once you form these lines, feel free to play around with them. Will you use them to invoke a sense of unity, or will you add a feature to intentionally break up the space?  Working with regulating lines can be technical but also very abstract – after all, the goal is create an effect without drawing attention to the exact cause of it. Remember that there’s no “wrong” way to use these lines; so long as you’re making use of them, the rest is up to you!


This ratio is found everywhere in nature – flower petals, hurricanes, animal bodies, proportions of the human face, even DNA molecules. Its use is widespread and can be seen throughout the ages in art, physics, music, modern and ancient architecture. Not everyone enjoys marrying their creativity with mathematics, but lean into your left brain just a bit and the results will speak for themselves.

The golden ratio is 1.618, and it can be used in a myriad of ways. The “Golden Rectangle” takes it a step further: the ratio of the short side to the long side should equal to the ratio of the long side to the sum of the long and short sides. Let’s throw some numbers in there and see if it starts to make sense. Say you’re putting in a raised bed that is 5 by 8 feet. To know if this uses the golden ratio, you’ll want to see if 5 to 8 = 8 to (5+8). 5:8 = 8:13. Another way to get there is to simply multiply each side by the golden ratio. 5 x 1.618 = 8.09, and 8 x 1.618 = 12.94, so your short side should be roughly 5 feet, your long side should be roughly 8 feet, and short side plus long side should equal roughly 13. 

Why is this ratio so special? Why is it found in seemingly everything we come across? Why is this considered the “divine proportion”? There are any number of theories and explanations for it. You could dive into a research project, or you could just accept it, use it, and then bask in the perfectly arranged dimensions of your landscape design.


Color has a more significant role than one would assume. Color creates mood and feelings and is essential in your landscape story line. What color schemes work best for your landscape design story line? Are you seeking a more private area for relaxation or an action based landscape?

Cool tones suggest a restful and tranquil environment while creating distance and low scale. Cool color schemes include blues, greens, and yellows. Warm tones are inviting and cheerful that enforces a more powerful space. Warm color schemes include violets, reds, and oranges.

Understand the type of environment you are creating within your significant enclosure and plan your landscaping design to reflect these qualities.

These are our invaluable suggestions when creating any type of enclosure in your landscape design! Follow these principles to ensure your process goes smoothly.