One of the most important principles in achieving balance in a garden is symmetry. Balance through symmetry can be divided into two schools of thought – Asymmetrical Balance and Symmetrical Balance.
Asymmetrical balance is actually being unbalanced, abstract, or free while still creating unity and balance through the repetition of some garden elements. Asymmetrical balance is more difficult to perceive and that is the point, it is more natural and relaxed.
Symmetrical balance is where all of the elements of the garden design are equally divided. Both sides share the same shape, form, plant height, color or planting bed shape. Symmetrical balance was very popular during the Renaissance period where entire gardens were mirror images from one side to the other. Formal gardens are almost always symmetrical and give the feeling of stability and order.
Last week I spent a long weekend in New Orleans to attend the California Landscape Contractors Association’s annual convention. While there, I spent an afternoon enjoying a walk through the famed Garden District. The Garden District was originally developed between 1832 and 1900 and is considered to be one the best preserved collections of historic southern mansions in the United States.
While taking a stroll along the tree shaded streets I could not help but notice the strong use of architectural symmetry for most of the homes. Many of the front yard gardens reflected the symmetry of the house. Most of the homes had nearly perfect symmetry also referred to as “bilateral symmetry” in which both sides are essentially the same but reversed.
Here are two clear examples where the symmetrical house façade is allowed to shine by keeping the landscape to a minimum. Architecturally strong containers and plant material compliment the design.
These two homes are also symmetrical but rely on the plantings to continue the symmetrical theme yet soften the façade by using a variety of planting textures and leaf color.
In this scenario the landscape planting is not only symmetrical but also an extremely formal feeling with its clipped hard edge.
Finally, as these photos show, the use of symmetry can even be seen in New Orleans’ most famous landmark, the St. Louis Cathedral. The symmetry is carried into Jackson Square by the plantings and utility fixtures.
Symmetry is a powerful tool in the designers list of design principles. If you are looking for a formal setting, one that contains a sense of order and balance, symmetry is the way to go.