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The Design Power of Pattern Languages

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Many landscape designs are difficult to draw out. Sometimes the terrain is too complex to spend time drawing out when the design itself is simple, or the design is on a small flowerbed, or the ideas used are repeated many times on many projects with minor variations. But the more common reason is that most people have not been trained to draw out a design in a way that clearly communicates the design. Enter a concept called pattern language. A pattern language is a way of planning out and communicating complex ideas in a simple, easy to understand method.

Pattern Language Example; an Annual Flowerbed

In Front Of – One type of flower is used in front of another flower. Unless otherwise specified in the design the flowers will be divided equally between the different types of flowers used. If you use a single in front of, you will need half of one type of flower and half of the other. If you use an in front of, in front of you will need to have each of your flower types be one third of the total.

Pockets – These are small groups or clusters. The design script should specify the size or amount of flowers in each pocket. The script should also specify the area where the pockets should be placed.

Bordered By – This creates a narrow border all the way around the bed. It can also be used for borders on three or two sides. Amounts of flowers for the border area usually vary from 25% to 50% of the flowers of the bed. The designer should specify what percentage he wants for the desired effect.

Mixed – This indicates that the flowers in a given area should be a mixed variety or color. If just flower varieties or colors are listed, they are to be mixed in equal amounts. For more flexibility, percentages can be specified by percent. The mixed pattern is especially good for giving a naturalistic effect. Care must be taken that the flowers are not placed in huge groups or in a simple pattern of one after another.

A Helpful Tool, But You Still Need To Do Your Homework

A pattern language for annual flowers can get much longer than this, but these four patterns are very useful and can create a large number of different types of formal flowerbeds. I should note that pattern language is only a tool for a good designer. It does not correct for a bad design or correct for a designer that does not know their plants or climate. A good example of this is if you were to plant cleome in front of begonias. Cleomes are too tall for the begonias. The cleomes would block most of the begonias and become a detriment to the bed. On the other hand, small pockets of begonias could allow them to be planted in the front of the bed without blocking the smaller flowers. And that is where the designer needs to be able to communicate his ideas clearly.

Feel free to take this small pattern language and play with it a bit. In the next few weeks I will post a few of my own explorations of the pattern. Then we can talk about it some more.


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