As a gardening television host and writer, I have the good fortune of seeing a lot of incredible gardens around the country. Wherever I go, just about every memorable garden including small private ones, has at least one focal point. They really add a level of polish and sophistication and can transform a good garden into a great garden.
Focal points in the landscape serve one primary purpose: to draw the eye towards that object. Usually this is for the intent of showcasing a unique or beautiful feature such as a piece of sculpture or a specimen tree with amazing branch structure or color.
Sometimes it is to distract you from seeing something that may be unsightly but unavoidable. An example may be a utility pole, immovable structure, a neighbor’s boat etc.
Focal points can be just about anything if used in the proper application. Common examples that can easily be used in the home garden and landscape include fountains, outdoor furniture such as one simple but unique chair, art or sculpture, a beautiful container, a specimen tree or even a bird bath or an attractive bird feeder. When plant material is used as a focal point it is often a striking specimen. I always reminded of a stately Japanese maple, reaching out with magnificent branch structure.
In the spring, emerging leaves may be lime green. In the summer they might turn to crimson red, and in the fall they can change again to shades of red, orange, and yellow. Even when dormant, it commands attention. A background of dark evergreen foliage only helps to set the stage as a tree like this takes front and center.
Focal points can also beckon you to come in for a closer look. Many times you are first captivated as your eye is drawn towards the object. Quite often because of its beauty or mystique, your body is drawn to it as well. To further entice the viewer, a focal point that is not completely in view or framed tightly by hedges or visual barriers, seems to call to us even more.
Ways to make focal points stand out
There are times when you have a special feature or specimen tree that you really want to show off. Depending on how you plant or design the landscape around it, you can accent that feature or detract from it.
A good way to landscape for visual impact and feature an object in the garden is to make sure the background is dense, monotone and muted or in contrast to the object in the foreground. The use of dense evergreens as a backdrop is a natural and effective way to showcase almost any object in front of it.
In garden design the use of objects that command attention is a wonderful way to show off a favorite plant, tree or sculpture. If your garden is lacking that special punch, consider adding a focal point or two to your garden soon. It’s such an easy way to make an otherwise non-descript garden stand out and can leave a lasting impression with all who visit.