Harmony in the Garden Blog

Garden Designers Round Table – Focal Points

This month’s Garden Designers Round Table topic is The Focal Point.  And to simply illustrate a perfect focal point example, I’ve chosen the Bullseye.

Why is this small dot a focal point, anyway?  When you think about it, the combined mass of the concentric circles is so much greater than that one little dot.  And visually, there’s so much more going on with all the circling lines than the one little dot.  Why is it then, that the one dot is the first place your eye rests?

The reasons are simple: 1) the dot is a different color than it’s surroundings, 2) it’s a different shape than it’s surroundings, and 3) it’s placed smack dab in the middle of it’s surroundings.

And that’s what focal points are – in a nutshell, they’re something that’s ‘different’ than their surroundings.  And depending on what those different factors are, it can control the way a garden is viewed.

When I look at gardens, there are 3 main types of Focal Points that I see:

#1. Artistic Elements as Focal Points – these are statues, structures, benches, arbors, basically anything non-living that draws attention to themselves and their surroundings.

This is Freeland & Sabrina Tanner’s incredible Napa garden, and what’s interesting about this photo is that there’s not one, but several structures which funnel the eye towards the bench – including the arbor, trellises, stone walls and pots.

.

But it’s the bench in the very center that captures the eye first.

.


 

.

The placement of the pots in this photo are what really draws the eye along the pathway – in particular, the pot in the distance.

.

It’s placement tells the eye that the pathway continues, beckoning the visitor to follow.

.

.

…more examples of other artistic elements as focal points:  pots, balls, birdbaths, sundials – pretty much anything can be a focal point if it’s ‘different’ from its surroundings.


#2. Plants as Focal Points – If a plant’s shape, size or color is drastically different from it’s surroundings then it can also act as focal point, commanding the eye’s attention.

I love this photo – even though the color of the Agave is the same as the Senecio groundcover, its structure is what makes it stand out and scream for your attention.

.

.

.

.

.


.

.

Initially, one would think the table with the pumpkin on it would be the focal point, but I think it’s really the 2 bright red Cordylines in the pots which steal the show.

.

They’re like giant fireworks!


.

…more examples of plants that are just crying out for your attention…

#3. Color as a Focal Point – And by color, I’m referring to painted structures that are introduced into a garden.

.

This is a perfect example of how the blue obelisque just grabs your attention…not only is it placed in the center of the garden, but it’s color stands alone….

.

.

.

.

.


… more examples of introducing color into the garden and turning it into a focal point…

.

.

The purple gate is clearly what the eye gravitates towards – if it were just it’s natural stained color, your eye would probably see the windchimes first….

.

.

.

.


Okay – so why USE focal points, anyway?

,

#1 Controlling the eye’s Line of Sight– this is probably the main function of focal points…dictating where you should look – ‘over here…no over there!’

Or leading you down the pathway….

Or making sure you notice the surrounding hillsides…

.

.

.


#2. Distracting the eye from something ‘less than desireable’ – like a chimney, or a play structure, or a street sign…you get the picture….

.

In this photo,  by placing the giant fountain in the front garden, I ‘think’ they were trying to distract our line of sight from the obnoxious yellow street sign – or was it the satellite dish….

.

.

The fountain distracts from the play structure behind it…while the maroon plants distract from the chimney

And last but not least…..

#3. Focal Points are great at invoking a certain mood, ‘setting the stage’ for the garden you’re about to encounter.

Whether it’s whimsical…

Or, serene and restful…

Or, sunny and bright….

.


.


.


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a bit about Focal Points today, and realize their importance in the garden. Please make sure you stop by my fellow Round Table’ers to see more examples…

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »

Carolyn Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL »

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT »

Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA »

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK »

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA »

Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : Hampton, NJ »

Tara Dillard : TaraDillard.com : Atlanta, GA ».





Enjoyed this article?  Please share it with others: 

Please leave a comment below

34 Comments

  • Wow, Rebecca! I love how your posts are always so rich with beautiful photos. It really helps illustrate the design concepts.

    Andrew, I too am taken with that giant Artemisia! LOL. We both zoomed in on that one.

  • OK, I’ve been out working the past two days and reading the posts in order, and I finally got to yours! I laughed when I saw the street sign pic, because I immediately thought, “That sign works GREAT in this composition.” Ha! Probably the homeowners didn’t think so, but really, what IS up with the satellite dish? Those things are a travesty.

    Also, what in heavens is that giant Artemisia? Something that wouldn’t dream of growing here, I’m sure, but I can dream myself…

    Loved this, as I do most all your posts. A round of applause!

    • Andy – leave it to YOU to find the one totally unusual, weird plant in the post! I had that artemesia many years ago and can’t remember the name of it for the life of me. I actually planted 3 of them in my garden and had to rip them all out as they ended up wanting to be about 6 x 6!! Absolute monsters (though gorgeous monsters at that)… Thanks for your kind words 😉

  • I don’t believe I’ve ever used color s a focal point (not that I recall). I see by your examples it can be a great idea.

    Great article covering many different ways of using a focal point. The “dot” was a grabber!

    • Thanks Susan and Christina – coming from pros like you, your comments mean a lot to me!

  • Hit nail on the head once again Rebecca! Utterly fantastic photos and a very well thought out layout. You are setting the bar very high for the Garden Designer’s Roundtable, I like it!

  • Like Loree, I love the photo of the agave focal point–a great illustration of how a plant can be used to stop traffic, at least for a moment. Your other photos are equally illustrative, and your post is clear as a bell. Very nice!

    • Pam and Loree – I see we are blue agave lovers! I’m so glad you liked the photo – thanks for stopping by!

  • I think this is my favorite Roundtable yet. I’m really enjoying all of the different takes on this topic! Your photo with the Agave and the Senecio is perfect to illustrate the point…thank you!

  • I’ve been flicking through a few garden design books lately, trying to learn what I can. I often find myself becoming confused, but your posts are so clear, simple and easy to understand. I never really understood why and how to use maroon foliage until I read your post on it, and now you have deconstructed focal points with the same panache. When I read your explanations I feel like I ‘get it’. You’re a natural teacher. (I suspect you have a book in you!)

    • Thank you so much, Greenwords! I’m so glad my post has helped you clarify some gardening issues and very much appreciate your compliments! I’m enjoying writing these posts more and more and am toying with the idea of a book – you must have ESP!

    • Thank you Carolyn, Laura and Debbie – so glad to hear from you all and glad you liked the photos!

  • What a great selection of photos to illustrate focal points. If you hadn’t pointed out some of the undesirables in the photos I might not have even noticed them. I especially loved the photo of the agave – what a stunning color.

    • Thank you Jocelyn and Robert! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    • I’m hoping to see a garden photo of how the bullseye is interpreted by you, Susan. Very intriguing, indeed!

  • What a great post!
    the bull’s eye was just such a GREAT point to start with.
    Thanks for this
    best wishes
    Robert

  • I have read all of the focal point articles, and all had some interesting views. But, if I had to take a class on the depiction and execution of focal points in the garden, it would be from you!

    You made them real and achievable by regular gardeners – great blog!

    Eileen

    • Eileen – your comment means the world to me as it’s a personal goal of mine to always speak (er…write) in such a way that ‘regular gardeners’ can walk away with some knowledge to help them in their own gardens. Thank you so much.

  • BULLSEYE!!!
    Such a great run-thru of the ins and outs of this focal points stuff…
    I really liked what you pointed out in the picture of the gazebo- you’d THINK the central element was the focal point, but actually it was the two electric pink cordylines in the pots. I call flanking pots “Sentinals”, and I’ve always wondered if they pull the eye towards a focal point of if they become the focal point themselves. In this case, the color and drama made the “fireworks” the clear focal point.
    You illustrated this topic beautifully, my friend! I love what you do!XOXO!

    • Ahh Ivette – ‘sentinels’ is the perfect word for those flanking pots. Thank you, my friend. (btw: that gazebo was from the Tanner’s garden – you just HAVE to see it one of these days! It’s truly a stunning, jaw dropping garden)

  • Wow Rebecca!
    You do such an amazing job on these Roundtable posts! I was particularly struck by your first photo, where you point out that despite the numerous man-made elements contrasting with the plants, they are just supporting players to the true focal point of the bench. It’s a reminder that a focal point is about more than just plopping a non-plant feature in the middle of a planting bed (although I do that all the time!)

    • Thanks Susan – I’m glad you liked that photo as much as I did. Sometimes photos reveal so much more about a garden than when you’re standing there ‘taking it ALL in’…and looking at this one was no exception. I was amazed at the amount of man-made elements and how beautifully they led the eye to the simple bench. I think that’s the talent behind the designers (Freeland & Sabrina Tanner) who created it, don’t you?

  • Love it! All your photos are inspiring! I may have to copy the whimsical wine bottle focal point in my garden. Fun.

    • Thanks Angela! If you need any help emptying out some of those wine bottles, just give me a ring! 😉

    • Thanks Town Mouse! I hope you enjoy the others’ as well..

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to my blog

Upcoming Speaking Events

February 12,
2020
February 25,
2020
February 27,
2020
February 28,
2020
February 28,
2020
March 20,
2020
May 28
2020

Don’t Snub the Shrub!

Merced Garden Club

Merced, CA

Topic:  TBD

Woodinville Garden Club

Woodinville, WA

When to Break the Rules
(and how to get away with it!)

Northwest Flower & Garden Festival

Seattle, WA

Container Wars!

Northwest Flower & Garden Festival

Seattle, WA

The 7 Sins of Garden Design

Northwest Flower & Garden Festival

Seattle, WA

Don’t Snub the Shrub!

Montelindo Garden Club

Lafayette, CA

Topic: TBD

Piedmont Hoe & Hope
Garden Club

Harmony in the Garden is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to
provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and other affiliate marketing companies.

Scroll to Top