“They are sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing” – William Shakespeare
Balance is an important concept in any design from an aesthetic point of view, but in garden design there is also a need to think about an ecological balance.
From a visual perspective balance is one of those elements of design that when you get it right nobody really notices, but if you get it wrong it stands out as a problem. The easiest way to achieve visual balance is to use symmetry. This is probably why formal garden layouts have been so well liked through the ages. But not by everyone, of course and it would be rather dull if this were the only route we had available to us. It is perfectly possible, if slightly more difficult, to achieve balance in more organic layouts. The trick here is to have regard to visual weight rather than absolute size.
For example, a large tree on the left of the view, might be matched by a similar sized tree, a similar distance from the viewer, as in the symmetrical approach. Equally it might be balanced by two trees on the right of half the size, or perhaps one tree of half the size, but much nearer to viewer, so that it has a similar visual impact as the first tree. It could be that the first tree is a light and airy tree, in which case it might be balanced by a smaller, yet denser tree on the other side of the view. A very solid object, such as a building, or a rock, will have considerable visual weight and may need to be balanced by a much larger mass of lighter looking trees or shrubs. Failure to appreciate the importance of striking a visual balance may mean that the view looks as if it is tipping to one side, or about to slide away in one direction. However, it is also important to recognise that achieving visual balance from all possible viewpoints is virtually impossible, so it is necessary to determine the key viewing points when considering this issue. Even a symmetrical pattern will not have complete balance when viewed away from the lines of symmetry.
If achieving visual balance were not complicated enough, when dealing with a living environment there are other aspects to seek to keep in balance. Left to its own devices, nature is surprisingly good at keeping things in balance over time. However, gardening inevitably involves some degree of management of nature, or perhaps, put another way, interference with nature. This can lead to problems if one is not careful. This is why there is now increasing regard to planting native, or near native, plants, rather than some exotics. Plants in their natural environment will have a range of pests, diseases, or competitors that keep them in check. Taken out of that environment and planted in a garden on the other side of the world may mean that there is nothing to keep it in check and it becomes invasive. Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam are examples of plants that have been introduced into the UK and have become invasive. Similarly, Purple Loosestrife is a beautiful waterside plant in the UK, but is considered an invasive weed following introduction to the USA.
There are many other issues where striking the right balance is important in achieving a well-designed garden. These may not be as clear cut as the issues described above and be more down to personal preference, but nonetheless need some consideration. This could be the balance between hard landscaping and soft landscaping. Within the soft landscaping between evergreen plants and deciduous. Perhaps it is the balance between areas of light and shade, or between the different areas of usage within the garden.
As can be seen from this short piece, there are many aspects of achieving the right balance to be considered when (re)designing a garden, which is why many people seek a little professional help from a garden designer.