Planting Design Illustrated (2nd edition)

A Must-Have for Landscape Architecture: A Holistic Garden Design Guide with Architectural and Horticultural Insight, and Ideas from Famous Gardens in Major Civilizations

by Gang Chen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Planting Design Illustrated (2nd edition)

Planting Design Illustrated (2nd edition)

A Must-Have for Landscape Architecture: A Holistic Garden Design Guide with Architectural and Horticultural Insight, and Ideas from Famous Gardens in Major Civilizations

by Gang Chen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Published Dec 26, 2009
280 Pages
Genre: GARDENING / Landscape


Book Details

Absolutely fascinating! Informative, enlightening, and entertaining!

This is one of the most comprehensive books on Planting Design. It is a Book of the Year Winner for ForeWord Magazine.

It fills in the blank in this field and introduces poetry, painting and symbolism into Planting Design. It covers in detail the two major systems in Planting Design: Formal Planting Design and Naturalistic Planting Design. It has numerous line drawings and photos to illustrate the Planting Design concepts and principles. Through in-depth discussions of historical precedents and practical case studies, it uncovers the fundamental design principles and concepts as well as underpinning philosophy for Planting Design. It is an indispensable reference book for Landscape Architecture students, designers, architects, urban planners and ordinary garden lovers.

You may be interested in other books I wrote:

LEED GA Exam Guide. It is available at:

Click here to view LEED GA Exam Guide

Architectural Practice Simplified. It is available at:

Click here to view Architectural Practice Simplified

LEED BD&C Exam Guide. It is available at:

Click here to view LEED BD&C Exam Guide

LEED AP Exam Guide. It is available at:

Click here to view LEED AP Exam Guide


Book Excerpt

What others are saying about Planting Design Illustrated:

Absolutely fascinating! Informative, enlightening and entertaining!

The following is a book review by Bobbie Schwartz, Former President of APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers), Author of "The Design Puzzle: Putting the Pieces Together"(This book is available on and Her website is

I think you'll find Bobbie's book review very helpful:

"Many books have been written on the subject of landscape design but, until recently, none had been written solely on the topic of planting design. Gang Chen, a licensed California architect, fills this vacuum with Planting Design Illustrated. He immediately distinguishes planting design for formal gardens from planting design for naturalistic gardens.

He begins with a discussion of the approach to planting design problems and then moves on to basic planting design principles. I particularly liked his drawing of texture design that illustrates the theory of contrast, this theory frequently discussed but rarely concretized. I also thought that his analysis of color theory was excellent, including the effect of factors such as the texture of the leaf, reflections from surroundings and the intensity of the light.

While massing is frequently cited as an important element in design, it is a concept that is rarely analyzed but Gang Chen defines it as the three dimensional quality of plants and relates its importance, in combination with emphasis on form, to the ultimate view. There is also an excellent discussion of the relationship between solid and void space, the type of pattern to be used, and the transition between them. This discussion includes spatial organization and contrast with analogous allusions to literature and art. In his examination of planting patterns, he says that "the secret of a good design is to achieve the balance between repetition and contrasts, between unity and changes."

The author is very erudite and uses his extensive knowledge of the arts to simplify and concretize what all designers know or should know, with many analogies to music, particularly in his discussion of rhythm.

Beneficial to every landscape designer and architect is knowledge of the history of landscape design. Most books written about formal garden design are based on Italian and French gardens but Gang Chen leads us further back in history, taking us through the evolution of formal garden prototypes while discussing how different cultures influenced that evolution. He demonstrates, with sketches, how formal gardens look from above and below and also how they evolved from hilly regions to flat ones. I was especially pleased to read of his belief that there should be unity of the building and the garden since this is an element that is often lacking in design.

While many books have been written about Japanese gardens and a few about Chinese gardens, none analyze naturalistic planting design. Gang Chen uses Chinese gardens as a case study in order to explore their cultural, symbolic, emotional and psychological aspects. These gardens serve as a subjective interpretation of the natural landscape found in China . He then demonstrates how Japanese gardens are a climatic and cultural adaptation of Chinese gardens as French gardens were of Italian gardens but distinguishes the differences between them and then compares them to the evolution of the English naturalistic gardens.

In his analysis of Chinese gardens, Gang Chen emphasizes the importance of two crucial concepts, plant iconography and Yi-Jing, to Westerners. Plant iconography is relatively easy to understand; it is the symbolism of plants and thus Eastern gardens frequently use fewer kinds of plant material than Westerners. Yi-Jing is a bit more difficult to grasp but critical to naturalistic design. It "focuses on the interaction between the designer's subjective ideas and the objective site conditions."

I found this book to be absolutely fascinating. You will need to concentrate while reading it but the effort will be well worth your time."
Jane Berger, Editor & Publisher of gardendesignonline also wrote a book review entitled "A New Take on Planting Design." Here is her review:

"At times, one of the most arcane concepts in landscape design concerns plants. Learning how and when to use them (not to mention the differences between countries, areas,weather conditions, zones and the like) sounds easy, but there are very many things to consider.

In Planting Design Illustrated (Outskirts Press, Inc, 2007), licensed California architect Gang Chen explains the history, philosophy, and cultural influences that are all a part of successful planting designs.

This is a book that you have to read, and it is more than well worth your time. Gang Chen takes you well beyond what you'll learn in other books about basic principles like color, texture, and mass. For example, he notes what each color symbolizes (yellow: wisdom and power; green: abundance and fertility); how texture is influenced by light and shadow; and how mass affects scale and balance.

The book has a number of drawings that illustrate basic concepts like formal and informal plantings, symmetry, movement, and spatial relationships.

Chen also compares Chinese and Japanese gardens, and it is the clearest explanation I have ever read about the differences between the two styles. And I loved the discussion of designing for the five senses. Sound effects can be created in the garden by water, wind, and rain. Certain plants in full sunlight create the illusion of gold. Fragrance can ease the mind and soothe the spirit.

Finally, Chen has a wonderful appendix of Asian garden plants that lists what each plant symbolizes (Banana : the tree of self-improvement; Tree Peony: nobility, wealth, honor; pines: social hierarchy). There's also a list of the plants most commonly found in Chinese gardens, a list you're unlikely to find anywhere else."

Book review by Hugh O'Connell, APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers):

"This unique well-written book with good illustrations (no glossy coffee table photographs) is interesting and well researched. Information for professional designers, students, and amateur garden owners... by following these principles, the designer will form better landscape and garden design. The book's international need is well overdue". A 5-Star Book.
Book review entitled "An especially 'reader friendly' and practical guide" by Midwest Book Review:

"An architect with more than twenty years of professional experience, Gang Chen turns his attention to landscaping with the publication of Planting Design Illustrated, a comprehensive instructional guide specifically written for non-specialist general readers, as well as students of gardening and landscaping, and professional architects who must consult with soils and civil engineers, as well as other professionals, in coordinating their buildings in the context of landscape designs. Occasionally illustrated with charts, designs, and photos, Planting Design Illustrated covers basic planting design principles and concepts (including the Formal Garden), then goes on to cover approaching a planting design problem, the relationship of plants and human beings when designing a landscaping project, plants and spaces, the developmental history and trends of formal gardens, naturalist planting design using Chinese gardens as a model, as well as the English style natural garden. Planting Design Illustrated also covers plant materials, cultural influences, aesthetic considerations, functional aspects and ecological factors of the garden. Enhanced with an annotated bibliography and informative appendices, Planting Design Illustrated offers an especially 'reader friendly' and practical guide that makes it a very strongly recommended addition to personal, professional, academic, and community library Gardening & Landscaping reference collections and supplemental reading lists."

Book review entitled "New information" by Jan Whitner, Editor of the Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin:

"As a long time consumer of gardening books, I am impressed with Gang Chen's inclusion of new information on planting design theory for Chinese and Japanese gardens. Many gardening books discuss the beauty of Japanese gardens, and a few discuss the unique charms of Chinese gardens, but this one explains how Japanese and Chinese history, geography and artistic traditions bear on the development of each country's style. The material on traditional western garden planting is thorough and inspiring, too. Planting Design Illustrated definitely rewards repeated reading and study; any garden designer will read it with profit."
Writer’s Digest 16th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards Judge’s commentary:

Where to start? Planting Design Illustrated is, above all, fascinating and refreshing! Not something the lay reader encounters every day, the book presents an unlikely topic in an easily digestible, easy to follow way. It is superbly organized, with a comprehensive table of contents, bibliography and appendices. The writing, though expertly informative, maintains its accessibility throughout and is a joy to read. The detailed and beautiful illustrations expanding on the concepts presented were my favorite portion. One of the finest books I’ve encountered in this contest in the past five years.

Donald C Brinkerhoff, FASLA, Chairman and CEO of Lifescapes International, Inc:

“…the work in my view has incredible application to planting design generally and a system approach to what is a very difficult subject to teach, at least in my experience. Also featured is very beautiful philosophy of garden design principles bordering poetry.

It’s my strong conviction that this work needs to see the light of day by being published for the use of professionals, students & garden enthusiasts.”

Book review by Mary Lou T. Rocca:

"This is a terrific book! What a nice surprise. Between all of the different areas of design covered, the pictures and the illustrations, I find myself reading it again and again and learning something new each time. The reference sections are also very useful and make everything so easy to understand. So many levels of those interested in Planting Design would find it helpful in many ways."

Book review entitled "An information-rich planting design book" by C. J. Kaiser:

"I enjoyed reading this book, especially the part comparing Chinese Gardens with Japanese Gardens and English Gardens. This book covers extensive information on planting design. I can see Mr. Chen put a lot of efforts and research into the subject and did an excellent job. It is also enjoyable to read the book as the pictures and the illustrations help me to understand any subjects discussed."

Book review by Jed:

"This book is extremely organized and well done. It sets up the fundamental framework of planting design. Not only does it discuss some commonly used plant materials in various gardens, it also uncovers universal principles and truth for planting design. Chen raises the bar by introducing plants' symbolic meanings into the planting design. The plant lists at the end of the book make it practical to apply the plants' symbolic meanings in landscaping."

Sample Text from Planting Design Illustrated


Most of the existing books on landscaping or planting design are pretty boring. This book actually makes the subject of planting design interesting. I think many of you will like it. It is not only informative, enlightening, but also entertaining. Several people who read the manuscript told me that once they started to read, they were so impressed and they just kept on reading until they finished it.

It is also a very practical book. It can really help the people who want to learn about planting design and how it is done in professional landscape practice. An e-book version of my book is also available at Outskirts Press web site as listed above, right under the header of this review. The following are some excerpts from my book:

Mr. Donald B., FASLA, CEO and Chairman of a well-known landscape design firm, accidentally read a copy of my original manuscript on planting design. He was amazed by what he read and encouraged me to seek the possibilities of getting the manuscript published. I never knew Donald before. He requested a friend of mine (an employee of his firm from whom he got a copy of my manuscript) to set up a lunch meeting with me. He told me in that meeting that he could not describe how impressed he was by my manuscript, and he felt like he had found a hidden treasure and loved to let others know about it and share it. He thought it was too good a piece to be left sitting on the shelf, and considered it to be a much needed piece in the field of planting design education and practice. In fact, he loved the manuscript so much that he requested my authorization for his firm to reproduce 6 copies of the manuscript for its in-house use. He also requested the every designer in his firm to read my manuscript and use the principles and concepts in their design.

Donald's firm is a well-known landscape design firm that designed many landscape projects in Las Vegas and other places, including Mirage Hotel, Bellagio Hotel, etc. Donald is a well-respected landscape architect and has over 50 years of experience in Landscape Design. He is a Fellow of American Society of Landscape Architects (FASLA, the most honorable and highest level of member of ASLA). His encouragement really gave me more confidence in trying to get my manuscript modified and published as a book.

I expanded my original manuscript to cover a broader range of gardens and added some basic but practical elements of planting design to meet the needs of a broader mainstream audience. Previous publications on various gardens treated them as isolated dots. I used planting design as a major linkage to connect the discussions of various styles of gardens in many different countries. I tried to connect the dots and find both differences and interactions. I compared different garden styles and noted the unique aspect of each garden style and its planting design but also tried to discover and generalize the common principles and concepts. I discussed design history, but not for history's sake. The purpose is to find out how we can learn from history and use it in our practice today. I have analyzed historical development, framework, underlying principles and major trends of various gardens and their planting design, with special attention to their potential use in modern landscape practice and planting design. If you have little knowledge of planting design, you will have a good understanding of the framework of planting design after you read this book. Even though you may not understand everything that you read at first, you will remember where the information is and can always come back to the section later after you gain more knowledge in landscape architecture. I also tried to look at the contemporary landscape education and practice from the angle of planting design, and tried to introduce landscape practice and planting design to ordinary readers...

Planting design is the arrangement of plants to achieve the best aesthetic, functional, ecological and symbolic effect. Even though there are a variety of garden styles in the world, gardening and planting design can be put into two major landscaping systems: formal gardens and naturalistic gardens... and planting design are not solely visual arts. They also involve the senses of hearing, smelling, touching, etc. Besides this, the seasonal and weather changes (spring, summer, autumn, winter, rain, snow, overcast or sunny day, etc.) can change the "Yi Jing" of the space and deeply influence the feeling of people. All these factors affect the garden indirectly with plants as their media...

...Planting design, like other kinds of art, is a cumulative process. We not only need to bring forward new ideas, but also need to inherit from the past. The challenge for us is not whether we should learn from history, but how to learn from history, how to differentiate what is constant and timeless and what is temporary and only has academic value...

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About the Author

Gang Chen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Gang Chen holds a Master Degree from the School of Architecture, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, and a Bachelors Degree from Department of Architecture, South China University of Technology. He is a recipient of the Grace and Robert Frazer Landscape Heritage Award from the Landscape Architecture Foundation. He has over 20 years of professional design experience.

Many of the projects he was in charge of or participated in have been published extensively in Architecture, Architectural Record, The Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register, etc. He has worked on a variety of unusual projects: well-known large-scale healthcare and hospitality projects with over one billion dollars in construction costs; award-winning school design, highly acclaimed urban design and streetscape projects, multi-family housing and high-end custom homes, regional and neighborhood shopping centers, etc.

Gang Chen is a LEED AP and a member of American Institute of Architects (AIA). He is also the internationally acclaimed author for another fascinating book entitled LEED AP Exam Guide

If you have any comments or questions, you can send an e-mail to Gang Chen at this link:
Click here to e-mail Gang Chen

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The following are some useful links:

The American Institute of Architects (AIA):
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Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD):
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American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA):
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Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF):
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Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM):
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American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP):
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International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA):
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Also by Gang Chen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Architectural Practice Simplified