The Importance of Scale in a Garden

The scale of garden spaces and the objects within them has an impact on human comfort and how it feels to be there.

woman reading in a cozy garden

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When thinking about garden design, many people will think about space. But fewer will think about the importance of scale in a garden.

Whenever we talk about space or size, we are talking about objective measurement, but of course everything is connected. Scale involves thinking about the size of something in relation to something else.

We are all surely familiar with the idea of something looking out of scale in one setting, but perfectly balanced and in proportion in another.

For example, in our homes, we may be careful not to choose too large a table that will overwhelm the space, while understanding that a large table would look and feel great in a larger room.

But in garden design, scale is something that is often overlooked. 

Why Scale Matters in a Garden

The scale of garden spaces and objects in a landscape, just as inside a home, has an impact on human comfort and how the space feels.

Spending time in too large and open a space can make us feel small, uncomfortable, and even a little lost. Small cramped spaces also make us feel confined and uncomfortable. The scale of spaces in relation to our own bodies can have a large impact on our moods.

Large objects that dominate a space, and also features that are too small within their surroundings, may feel jarring to us. Scale can dictate whether we feel a sense of balance, or just feel that something is not quite right.

We all interact with the world around us based on our physical dimensions, sensory capabilities, and limits. We frequently feel most comfortable when in spaces of human scale. When the environment we are in feels out of kilter with ourselves, whether we are aware of it consciously or not, we may feel ill at ease.

Of course, scale also has an impact on aesthetics and determines how a garden will look. Finding harmony and balance in the size of different objects and features in relation to one another can help us to create a garden that is visually appealing, too.

Human Scale in Garden Design

Human scale is often spoken of in architectural terms, but less often in the field of garden design. This is a mistake, because when we spend time in our gardens, we are just as affected by space and scale as we are inside our homes. 

Some considerations of human scale are practical ones. In a garden, one thing to think about is ensuring that we create beds that we are easily able to tend (something restricted by the length of our arms' reach), to give just one example.

Thinking about human scale is not just about practicalities like being able to reach, traverse, or step over certain things easily; it is also about how your garden feels. The scale of both spaces and objects has a significant bearing—in a garden as in a home—on the mood of a space. When we think about scale in a garden we can think about how we and others using the space will feel and consider carefully the mood we are creating.

For example, we can consider the size of garden rooms in relation to ourselves, thinking about scale when deciding how large these garden rooms should be. Sometimes, a large expansive space can have an air of grandeur, but partitioning that space can allow us to create a very different effect, helping us feel safe, cozy, and secure. 

small urban landscaped backyard with garden

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Scale and Aesthetics

Visual aesthetics can also be important in a garden, alongside the mood. So scale can also be an important consideration when we think about the placement of plants, objects, garden buildings, and other features that we might wish to include within our gardens.

The goal is to create a pleasing balance between different elements in the space, your home, and your garden as a whole.

In a larger garden, for example, a summer house might look lovely, tucked away at the end of the garden. But in a smaller garden, the same summer house might overwhelm the space and be too dominant a feature.

On a smaller scale, the same thing goes for the plants you choose—and the planting combinations that you might create. A relatively small berry bush or flowering shrub might be a wonderful statement feature in a smaller space, but might get lost and look insignificant in a garden garden, or where there are larger tree and shrub species around.

Scale is certainly not the only consideration when designing and creating a garden. But it is one of the things that should not be overlooked.