Rhythmic repetition establishes visual and physical pacing
Repetition is one of the most useful tools for introducing rhythm into a garden. Repeating a form, color, or texture helps to establish the visual pacing that leads the eye through a garden. The intervals at which an element is repeated will distinguish one rhythmic motif from another. The stalwart vertical columns of trees are the kings and queens of rhythm in the garden. The relative spacing of trees, and thus the visual pacing, can set the tone for the rest of the plantings. A formally balanced and linear planting of trees makes a good backdrop for an understory of evenly spaced shrubs. An informally balanced and nonlinear planting of trees can reinforce an undulating mass of understory shrubs. Hardscaping with such repeating elements as fences, steps, and walls can play an important role in establishing a garden’s rhythm. The spacing of the repeating elements can convey a specific rhythm. For example, a line of straight, evenly spaced steps tends to be like a monotonous, repeating beat. In contrast, the staggered spacing of a series of clustered steps offers a more complex and engaging rhythm.
One simple way to introduce a rhythm is to repeat an architectural form like a column or a pole. By repeating and occasionally clustering a form in a garden, you can create an immediately recognizable rhythm. You might consider using several columns of varying heights.
Sculptural plants, such as columnar or conical evergreens, also serve well as anchoring rhythmic elements, providing a regular repeating baseline beat. Consciously varying the height and spacing of such dominating plant forms can give an underlying sense of order to a landscape. I’m especially fond of using stones as a repeating design element. A successful arrangement of stones relies on the rhythm associated with the spacing among individual stones as well as among their relative heights. Rhythm also helps to establish the pace of movement through a garden. Think of the journey along a pathway. A path that is open, broad, and straight will promote an entirely different pace and mood than does one that is narrow and meandering. For example, walking through an allée of evenly spaced trees promotes a formal, measured pace. In contrast, walking on stepping-stones requires looking down for careful foot placement, thus encouraging attention to details of the landscape. When there’s a bridge to cross or the texture of the path changes, pace and experience are also affected.