How-To Create a Focal Point in the Garden

Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest

As you walk down a garden path, your senses are heightened by the delight the garden brings. With a continual swath of beautiful plants, the eye takes in so much beauty as it slowly moves from flower to flower, from one vignette to another. Then your eyes come to rest on a particular item in the garden--a focal point--giving your senses a place to rest. Adding a focal point will register that same elation in the heart.

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A focal point can be a fountain, a perfectly placed birdhouse, or a piece of garden art. It can be anything, really, including specimen plants, as long as it’s eye-catching enough to add emphasis to the garden. A focal point is the sigh spot for wandering eyes to rest upon and bring the garden into focus.

When selecting a focal point, keep in mind that it is meant to become the center of visual attention along a line of sight—such as a path, open space, broad border, or vista—offering the viewer something to concentrate on. Without this, a relationship among the elements will not be established, and you will lose the attention of the viewer.

The focal point should also stay within your garden style theme. Formal elements, such as an obelisk, work well in formal gardens. Rustic bird houses and birdbaths work well in cottage gardens.

Larger gardens or gardens with many rooms, large or small, may have more than one focal point. Consider adding focal points in many areas of the garden, being careful not to add more than one in a single location. Ideally, when someone is standing in the line of sight, only one focal point should be seen at a time. As a person moves around the garden, other focal points can present themselves.

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Here are some suggestions for focal points to add to your garden:

  • A large border of green can be brought to life with a focal point. A red, feathery Japanese maple planted among the evergreens will draw the eye in to rest before moving on.
  • Smaller spaces can have one unique plant to grab your attention and to jazz up the garden space—for example, a small weeping Japanese maple, the orange leaves of cannas, or the sinuous lines of a weeping blue Atlas cedar.
  • Running water is often heard before it is seen. This prepares us for joys that might await nearby. In listening, we know as we journey through a garden that something will present itself. No matter where a fountain is placed, it will naturally become the focal point. It will also become a hub for the wildlife it attracts.
  • Set a statue front and center, or have it whispering for attention in the flowers and foliage. Statues demand attention and add emphasis to other features, such as a pool or doorway.
  • Adding a single boulder or a series of boulders to a garden border adds drama and serves as a focal point. Boulders also serve as a backdrop to complement plantings within a border. f you live in an already rocky area, boulders will offer a natural alternative as a focal point.

As you focus on improving your garden display, consider where you might add a focal point for year-round enjoyment. A focal point will break up an expanse of plants and draw the eye in. From there, the garden will reveal itself.

SIDEBAR

Every good garden design has at least one dominating focal point. Whether it’s in the form of an urn, a plant, or art, a well-placed focal point can make or break a garden’s emotional appeal. In the photo example, Annette Hunt designed her garden around her grandmother’s urn. The urn serves as a focal point in the middle of her garden bed. This one piece completely makes the garden, adding height, interest, and intrigue.

Focal points don’t need to be elaborate concoctions to grab someone’s attention; a simple, perfectly-positioned item will let the eye relax and enjoy before moving on.

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