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Aspects of Design : Variety and Unity


A garden is made more pleasant and challenging to the viewer if a variety of features, plants, colours, shapes, sizes and texture are used. The more variety there is, the longer the eye has to linger to record what it sees. Contrasting shapes, colours, sizes and textures make the eye work hard.

While variety is essential to good design, it is easily overdone. Too much variety creates a fussy, restless effect that is uncomfortable. When there is too much contrast without pattern, the eye cannot take it all in and quickly loses interest.


Unity is the opposite of variety. Other words often used to describe aspects of this important principle of design are simplicity, integrity, repetition, emphasis, harmony.

In choosing plants, unity of design is maintained by using only plants that are necessary. Lacking a clear role, unnecessary plants produce a fussy result. Certain features like hedges, walls, paved areas and lawns have their own inbuilt unity of shape, colour and texture and they help to link together the elements of the garden.

Using the same plants, colours, shapes or textures helps to unify the garden design. For example, one hosta above five metres away from a group of three others makes a link for the eye, or the repeating of a distinctive shape like a columnar-shaped tree, or a series of terraces or steps.

Smooth lawn or paving emphasises the flat stillness of water; blue flowers pick up its reflected sky-colour. Subtle repetition creates a rhythm that relaxes the eye and hold the design together.

By contrast, too much repetition of the same few plants have quite the opposite effect. For example, having trees of purple alternate with those of variegated foliage. Unity taken this far is obvious and boring.


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