Unity could also be described as "harmony." When your landscape design has achieved unity, all things fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, with nothing out of place or failing to relate to the other parts or the whole.
One of the best ways to tell if a landscape has unity is by walking through it fully conscious of the "big picture." You should never turn a corner and feel like you've just stepped into another landscape. No matter what part of a well-designed landscape you enter, you should still feel like it is a part of the whole design concept.
For years, landscape "rooms" have been fitted into designs just like those in a house. We are able to create walls with fences, hedges and assorted barriers. We can have furniture and artwork in outdoor landscapes. And still yet we can create ceilings with arbors, pergolas, vines and trees. And just like in our homes, our outdoor rooms often have completely different personalities, color schemes and furnishings. The danger, however, is having such a drastically different personality that the room seems like it belongs in another landscape.
So how do we avoid this common mistake? Repetition is generally the answer. Notice when you go in most rooms of a well-designed house that the walls, ceiling and trim are generally the same throughout.
This same process should be repeated in the landscape. No matter what style or theme you have in your front yard or backyard, you should repeat some unifying elements throughout the entire property. One of the simplest ways is to use the same type of edging throughout the landscape. This is very much the same as using the same trim and woodwork throughout a house or the same continuous frame around a picture.
Repeating the same type of lawn or groundcover throughout also helps provide unity, much the same way that repeating a type of flooring in a home does. If every room in a house had a different color of carpet or tile it would be a bit disruptive, just like having many types of turfgrass or flowerbeds in a yard. Repeating similarly shaped beds throughout a design also helps achieve unity. If part of your design features formal rectilinear shapes and others more natural free form ones, it will be bit hard to think of them as belonging to the same landscape.
I often tell people to write a description or describe the theme of their design on paper before they ever get started. Then when implementing the design, they should stay within their chosen parameters by referring to their chosen theme.
Landscape design is not complicated. It just requires some thought, planning and discipline. There's really no difference in interior design, fashion design, floral design and landscape design, as the principles are exactly the same.
If you'd like to hear more about my five basic principles of landscape design, plan to attend our final Master Gardeners at the Library lecture series Friday at the Tyler Public Library, 201 S. College Ave. in Tyler. The free lecture is from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is open to the public.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is co-author of "Texas Home Landscaping." You can read his "Greg's Ramblings" blog at arborgate.com and his "In Greg's Garden" in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com). More research-based gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and plantanswers.com.