Landscape Design – Masses and Voids

There is no easy way to teach landscape design and most home gardeners cringe at the thought of it, however, I’d like to introduce you to one particular landscape design concept that you might find interesting and useful, that of landscape mass and landscape void.

Every landscape is made up of masses of plants and areas void of plants — areas planted and areas that are open. Often the balance between the planted and the open spaces, and the arrangement of the planted and open spaces can determine the overall effectiveness of a landscape design.

Where The Voids Are

A void in landscaping could be a lawn, or an expanse of ground cover or gravel. It could also be a patio or garden pool. A void is simply an open area in the landscape. The key to landscape design is that you can plan and shape the void, rather than just let it happen by accident. For example, my wife and I are in the process of landscaping our three acre property. We are planning and planting a screen of evergreens on the western edge of our property to provide some privacy from the neighboring lot. Between the evergreen screen and the house we are planning to develop a small, perhaps 40 foot diameter, oval lawn area. Near the house this oval lawn area, the void, will be surrounded by small shrubs. Thus, we’ll end up with a wonderful small, almost hidden, oval lawn area surrounded by short shrubs to the north and south, and large evergreens to the west.

Developing the Masses

Voids are most effective when surrounded by a significant amount of mass. The mass is the planted areas of the home landscape. Too often we plant in straight narrow rows. We line up shrubs across the front of the house, or across the back fence. We neglect trying to develop depth and mass in our planting, and yet it is mass that so nicely sets off the voids. In most cases it is best to have an orderly transition between the masses and voids in the landscape. For example, start with a flower border. Back it with low-growing shrubs, behind which you plant taller growing shrubs. Finally, add a collection of trees. Pay attention to the way the mass of plants will appear when standing, or sitting, in the void.

One thing I like to do is have a void area immediately outside a frequently used window in the house. When you look out the window you see across the void to the mass planting. I try to develop this mass planting area to be as interesting and attractive as possible when seen from the window.

Mystery in the Landscape

If your yard is large enough often you can have two void areas divided by a large mass planting and then develop a connecting pathway between the voids. As you travel through the path you catch glimpses of the approaching void and this creates a bit of mystery as to what’s just around the bend. Often a piece of statuary, or something as simple as a birdbath, can be placed in the voids to act as a focal point. If the mass planting area is large enough the path can be made to twist and wind with interesting plants scattered along the way to lead you through to the next void.

Think About It

As you walk in and through your yard this spring think about the arrangement of the masses and voids in your landscape. Then think about ways to improve their relationships to each other. This type of landscape exploration is foreign to many gardeners but it really helps in making those basic landscape design changes that pay big dividends in the long run.

What you have in your mind?