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Contrast Landscape Design Element

Creating contrast in a garden is like a mechanic tuning a car… it simply must be done.

A garden with no contrast is sometimes seen as flat, lifeless and uninteresting.

Contrast can be used to define areas of space in a garden, highlight and emphasis a feature or can be used just to break a monotonous design that uses too many of the same plants or features.

Most commonly contrast is used to accentuate a spot in the garden. If the garden has mostly green foliage with a few white flowers, placing a brilliant red foliage or flowering plant in the garden will emphasis that spot. Colour is the simplest method to create contrast.

One can use this tool to attract the attention of garden visitors to that area and to entice them to venture into the garden.

Alternatively contrast can be used for positive distraction. If a view from the garden is unsightly, such as your neighbour’s back yard, then by placing contrasting plants in another area of the garden it is possible to attract attention away from the unsightly view. When designed well, visitors will them more likely remember the wonderful features within your garden rather than the neighbour’s yard.

If a garden has predominantly soft foliage and round shaped plants such as lavenders, then a few contrasting erect shaped plants such as Gymea lilies and ornamental grasses are ideal to bring an essential design element to the garden.

Contrast can also be attributed to surface materials. The stark differences between inorganic stone, gravel and recycled building materials contrast well with organic elements such as grass, mulch and groundcovers. The physical features of all these various items enhance a design by recognising their respective textural elements.

Texture is therefore significant in creating contrast.

The texture of soft foliage plants is complimented, and contrasted, with large bold foliage. Utilised correctly in landscape design a few large foliaged plants would become the feature or focal point to an observer, rather than the nearby mass planted species with soft foliage.

Great vertical contrasting plants include:-
Dracaena marginata

Gymea lilies (Doryanthes)
Indian mask tree (Polyalthia)
Red hot poker (Kniphofia)
Stream lily (Helmholtzia)
Wild Iris (Dietes)

Large foliage contrasting plants include:-
Brisbane lily (Proiphys)
Dizygotheca elegantissima
Gymea Lily (Doryanthes)

Fine foliage contrasting plants include:-
Banskia ericifolia
Daintree pine (Gymnostoma australianum)
Fern-leaf aralia (Polyscias filicifolia)
Snowflake (Euphorbia leucocephala)
Tassel flower (Calliandra tweedii)


Article written by Paul Plant FAIH, freelance garden writer and horticultural consultant

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