You always know when you’re entering a balanced, well-proportioned garden because it feels comfortable—lines lead you naturally through the space, and shapes and volumes are restful to the eye. Some contemporary designers purposely set out to create slight discord by building gardens that are off-balance, but most of us want our outdoor spaces to offer a peaceful sanctuary. So, how do you achieve balance and proportion?
First, think about your garden design in proportion to the human body. A tall hedge planted close to the house may appear too dominant as you enter the garden, but when set at the far end of the site, the perspective makes it seem more apt and less formidable. Flowerbeds dotted around the garden look unbalanced and chaotic if they have not been set out to follow a line. They make you feel like you’re in a messy room, while broad, flowing borders that sweep gracefully through the space, or wide, straight flowerbeds flanking a pool, create order and immediately relax you.
Treat your garden like a room in your house: there, you know instinctively when you mark out an area for a new sofa whether it will look right in the space. Do the same outside. Measure and mark out the position of your planned features with sand from a bottle, a spray marker, or canes, to see how they fit. Or take photos and draw features and plantings on them to check the sizes and proportions. You don’t need to draw accurate representations; simple, blocky shapes will give you an idea of how they will look in situ.
Achieving balance is easier in formal gardens because they are set out in a symmetrical pattern, but informal designs have to be judged more by eye.