The concept of ‘proportion and scale’ in the garden can be tricky to get right, but when you do, you just know it.
Well, that WASN’T the case when I moved into my new home a few years ago. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
But as I’ve lived with the space, I’ve realized that one of the reasons why this place never felt inviting, was because things were so wildly out of proportion.
There were tons of tall oak trees and the biggest granite boulders I’ve ever seen, with a smattering of plantings that were puny in comparison.
The epitome of things looking out of proportion, however, was a huge basalt rock fountain.
Before I move on, though, let’s first briefly define proportion and scale – two terms that are often used interchangeably (even though there are subtle differences between the two.)
Scale is the relationship of an item to a fixed object, or a constant (ie: a nearby house.)
Proportion, on the other hand, is the size of an object in relation to surrounding objects, to one another, or to the entire design (ie: how an object fits in with the garden’s space.)
Since it’s hard for many people to grasp the subtle differences between these two terms, I thought it might be helpful to illustrate by showing you the fountain that was here when we moved in a few years ago.
I absolutely HATED it and couldn’t wait to get it out of here.
Not only was it out of place, but it even seemed to emphasize the weirdness of that ginormous, saggy boulder at its feet!
In fact, except for the mature trees and the pond-shaped swimming pool, there wasn’t much at all that I liked about the back garden.
Everything else was just so visually hot, visually cluttered, and visually oppressive – the polar opposite of ‘inviting.’
Lucky for me, the fountain weighed a ton (maybe two?) and was firmly secured in its spot, making it incredibly difficult to remove.
And besides that, I had much bigger fish to fry as we were about to embark on a major remodel of our home.
So there the fountain sat, staring at me like a giant, out-of-place eyesore all year long.
As I lived with this space over the next year, I began to realize that the colossal fountain was actually in scale with the fixed object (ie: my two-story home.)
However, it wasn’t in proportion with any other surrounding elements in the garden.
In fact, there was no garden – only river rocks at its base (which were definitely not in proportion!)
This space needed something to bridge the gap between the top of the fountain and the house’s second story.
The solution was to add an arbor substantial enough to link together the house with the garden.
The arbor visually shrunk down the size of the fountain so it no longer stood out like a sore thumb.
Now, with the arbor in place the fountain is in proportion and scale with the rest of the space.
We were fortunate to find a talented welder who made the pergola’s frame.
Next, we covered the top with two layers of textural bamboo. It was one of the most challenging things we’ve done in a long, long time, but we love the look.
Ideally, we would’ve used willow or hazel twigs, but dang – they’re EXPENSIVE!!!
The next thing I wanted to tackle was the spatial gap between the concrete patio and the top of the fountain.
And that’s where plants come in – to help soften that lower transitional space.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds, as the only available planting area was currently filled with layers and layers of river rocks.
After the river rocks were removed, I could see that the planting space was quite small – only a few feet.
And to make matters worse, this area is in the beating hot sun all day long with no feasible way to hook up irrigation.
So the plants I chose needed to thrive in these challenging conditions, besides relying on my erratic hand-watering.
In addition, the plants needed to be in proportion to the size of the fountain, as well as the giant boulder. Which meant, no teeny, tiny plants.
I’m happy to say I’ve had incredible luck with the ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ leucadendron (which needs hand watering only once a month during the summer) senecio cineraria, bulbine, and ‘Platinum Beauty’ lomandra.
All of these plants are evergreen, require very little water, and most importantly, withstand the blistering summer heat.
Thanks to the upper-layer pergola and lower-layer plantings, the fountain is now in perfect proportion to its surroundings.
Now, as I sit on my shaded patio, I love the fountain and can’t imagine living without it!
Neither can Buddy, my trusty pup, or the hummingbirds who love their bath!