As you look around your garden your eye will naturally come to rest at some points, these are focal points.The point is the most basic and possibly the most important of the design elements, with inherently stationary nature the point creates a feeling of permanence and stability. It acts to focus the eye in a particular place. It can form basis to make a space seem bigger, to draw you into the garden or to act as the starting point for positioning other design elements.
Garden Design Element – Focal Point
Focal points can be created in the Garden by using elements such as trees, rocks, or views that already exist. A focal point does not need to be elaborate and you will often find that a simple gate, shrub, planter or other object works very well indeed.
Red Focal Points, Burren Perfumery Garden, Co. Clare, Ireland.
Simply by choosing your plants with care, and by placing specimens carefully you can quite easily create a very effective entity that draws the eye and creates a focal point. For instance placing a taller tree fern in an otherwise herbaceous scheme, or by strategically putting a plant with a very large leaf in a scheme where all the other plants have small leaves can be instantly effective.A focal point is simply an object that is placed where you want it to be in order to draw the eye, something like a fireplace or well placed painting in interior design. This will help to give your design a more coordinated look and will contribute to the overall unity of your scheme. It is important to include a focal point in your design and, in fact if your garden is larger, a series of focal points will help immensely as you circulate through the various interconnected spaces.
Plants that are taller than others will invariably be instantly more noticeable than those around them, particularly if placed towards the centre of the scheme. As with many other design tools, use your focal points sparingly and you will be successful.
Using colour, white flowering plants can be extremely effective in this context. Particularly in temperate climates and towards the end of the summer you will often notice that white flowers take on a quality that sometimes seems to actually create light on darker evenings. Again in this instance, more is less and if you are using white as a focal point, use it sparingly.
One of the easiest ways of adding a focal point is to go to your garden centre or art gallery and purchase a piece of sculpture or some garden ornaments. Using sculpture is usually more original but can be expensive. Using garden ornaments is cheaper but tends to be less original as the ranges available can be limited to traditional fountains, bird baths and statues.
Tip: Put some thought into this, decide what your focal point is going to be before you do any major design work, then let this inform your design for that part of the garden. If you connect your focal point and your overall design in this way the end result will be a coherent unified design.
Church Spire Focal Point – Lismore Castle Gardens, Co. Waterford, Ireland
If you have a wonderful existing view of part of your surrounding landscape then you should seize this opportunity to build it into your design. Simply build a framework into your design to emphasise the view. Most designers use planting that will frame and draw attention to this feature thereby causing it to become a focal point. This may also be an opportunity for you to visually integrate your new garden with the surrounding landscape.
Never put elements in place which will eventually grow up to block this view.
The borrowed landscape focal point is of course also free!
Tip: if you are lucky enough to have a strong natural feature at the end of your garden, never try to compete with it. For instance no matter how high and dramatic you make a fountain or a rockery they will never compete with rolling ocean waves or a majestic mountain. Simply let the naturally occurring water or the mountain fulfil your design purpose.
Natural existing focal points such as mature trees that are well placed to suit your design purpose should be left in place whenever possible. This will lend an definite air of maturity to a new garden and will provide you with a starting point for you design.
Tip: When deciding to retain existing trees do get them checked out by a recognised arborist and follow through on any recommendations that you receive.
Your choice of materials for creating focal points are unlimited; simple coloured fishing floats, and existing rock outcrop, a new rock feature, a rose arch, the list is endless. As mentioned earlier, if you are interested in the arts, this is a wonderful opportunity to attend some exhibitions and, with the help of the artist or the gallery, select something to place in your garden. Be careful however that what you select will form an integrated part of your design and that it will not dominate it. Also do be careful to check with the gallery that what you are about to buy is suitable for display outdoors!
Tip: When placing a new flower bed at the base of a tree or other focal point, be careful to ensure that the shape of the bed looks natural and stays within the context of your design. Allow the contours to inform the shape of the bed, and if the ground is flat allow your design to be informed by those distant mountains, the line of the river or very usefully by the shape of the tree or the shadow that it casts. Be inventive; don’t settle for a simple circle or for the usual amorphous, clichéd, dreadful kidney-shaped shrub-bed.
When creating your design consider the strong connection between how we see and forms that take on a circular shape. We tend to respond instinctively to shapes that are circular and our instinct is to expect to find something centred there. Whether you use a whole or part (quadrant/semi-circle etc) of a circle in your design this can be a useful technique for helping you to locate your focal point.