How to Create Structure in Your Landscape

Structure in design—whether graphic design, architectural design, interior design, or landscape design—makes a space more comfortable, attractive and helps define how we should use it. In landscape design, you can create structure by building things like pergolas, planting hedges or trees, adding arbours or trellises, and creating water features.

Structure doesn’t have to mean highly-manicured hedging and sharp lines like you’d see in the formal gardens around Buckingham Palace. Working with natural elements and shapes, you can integrate curved or softer lines that still create a clear structure to guide visitors through your landscape.

Adding structure helps create separation in your garden and break up wide-open empty spaces into logical and functional outdoor areas, similar to different rooms in your home. Structures like arbours, pergolas, retaining walls, and trellises act as extensions of the house, helping to emphasize and define each space or garden room in your landscape. 

Here are four different soft and hard landscaping techniques that will work well to create structure in almost any Powell River garden.

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Retaining Walls

If your yard has a slope, you might want to install a retaining wall. You can work with your yard’s natural slope and put in a retaining wall to separate areas and levels of your yard. Or, you can use retaining walls to guide the eye along a curvilinear path around the edge of your yard. 

Retaining walls add structure and organization to your yard by clearly delineating different spaces. Whether it’s a terraced slope or a sitting space carved into a hill, they help you define different areas and give you new opportunities for planting. 

You don’t have to do retaining walls that are all straight lines and hard angles. They can be curved, natural-looking, and perfectly suited to your area. Curvilinear lines draw the eye through the yard, leading the viewer or visitor to keep looking and exploring the different spaces in your landscape. 

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A retaining wall doesn’t have to be large to be effective. Even just a height of one or two feet can significantly affect and help you define different spaces in your yard. If you don’t like hard lines of retaining walls, you can grow trailing plants over them to soften the angles or construct them from boulders for a more rustic, organic feel. 

Just because your yard doesn’t have a slope doesn’t mean a retaining wall is out of the question. If your yard is very flat and uninspiring, you can add height or depth to certain areas, depending on your vision. Those are big landscaping jobs, though, and should only be done under consultation with a professional landscape architect to ensure that everything is done properly and that drainage is handled correctly.

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Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs can also be used to add obvious structure and organization to a landscape. Hedging shrubs and trees or specimen plants can be a strong guide for a place’s overall structure. They can be used as a guide to show visitors where they can move through space. 

Trees and shrubs work well as walls or screens to create structure by defining “rooms” in your landscape. They can represent other types of boundaries as well, like the edge of your property. But, separation should always be logical and functional. For example, the dining and outdoor cooking areas should still be close together. 

Specimen trees can be a focal point of a landscape area, and their shapes, style, or colour may influence the structure of other nearby garden elements. Plants create easy natural boundaries, and you can mould them to suit whatever style you prefer.

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Structures like arbours, pergolas, retaining walls, and trellises act as extensions of the home, helping to emphasize and define each space or garden room in your landscape. They make it obvious where a person should enter or exit a room of the garden. Because you can create them in so many different styles, they can also set the tone for the entire landscape design and are a great place to feature climbing plants like wisteria, clematis, or climbing roses. 


Water Features

Water features like fountains, waterfalls, or creeks can bring structure to the garden by clearly defining a boundary between spaces or inviting visitors to follow it through a garden space. Fountains often act as a feature statement in a landscape setting. 

If you choose a water feature style as a starting point and then design your yard around it, you can create structure and organization by carrying the fountain’s shapes and style through the rest of the landscape. Fountains benefit from having open space around them or low-planted flower beds to emphasize their sculptural design. 

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Running water adds ambience while masking street noise and is another way to define a boundary clearly. A small rill, waterfall, or creek is a beautiful but subtle boundary that can divide space and guide visitors along a specific pathway.

Well-designed structural elements organize your landscape and allow transitions from one space to another to be less disordered. You can soften the contrast of hardscaping elements with vining, trailing or climbing plants to blend the transition. Structure helps focus the viewer or visitor on the elements you want to feature, like a beautiful view.

If you’re considering adding structure to your landscape, start from the ground up. Consider the curves, lines, shapes you want to implement in your outdoor space. You can always use a hose, stakes and string, stakes, or even a line of sand to map out your design before making any permanent changes. Ultimately, the finished product should be well-defined, comfortable, and inviting for you and your guests!