FOCAL POINTS IN THE GARDEN

03-12-2011
FOCAL POINTS IN THE GARDEN

Since the origins of gardening which stems to around 3000BC, focal points in gardens have been key to a well-designed garden. They were one of many ways that the rich showed their wealth. The Ancient Greeks and Romans used statues and urns. In the east the Moghul gardens used water features and richly carved Havelis (Gazebos). The Taj Mahal is a wonderful example of this where the water feature lead the viewer all the way to the exquisite marble structure. During the Renaissance period the Italian and French gardens adopted both these elements. In Britain although the English Landscape Movement was a reaction against the Renaissance and the Baroque period, Focal Points continued to be a key element of garden design. These are clearly seen in the gardens in many of our National Trust and English Heritage Gardens.

The Gothic Blue seat surrounded by the Taxus baccata buttresses draws the eye down the York stone path
To this day Garden Designers use Focal Points in gardens to draw and direct the eye. Gardens that are constructed with just swathes of plants can look pretty however the eye moves through the scheme without absorbing any part of the planting. By providing Focal Points in a garden your eye rests and focuses. Drawing interest into one point the eye will then venture slowly through the garden to the plants and other points of interest.

Focal points should always be considered in conjunction with the style of the garden and never as an after thought. They should compliment the garden whilst making a statement. The planting scheme around the Focal Point can also help to draw the eye to what you want the viewer to see. The blue seat at Sandhill Farm is a perfect example of how this works. The frothy flowers of Alchemilla mollis lining either side of the York stone pathway draws the eye towards the blue seat surrounded by the buttresses of the Taxus baccata. The upright columns within the borders also help to draw attention the tall gothic arched back of the seat.

An avenue of Carpinus betulus at Hidcote leads the viewers eye to the ornate gate and the views beyond

An allee of trees at Angelsey Abbey creates a beautiful pathway leading to the classical urn.

In small gardens, the lack of space means every element needs to be well considered. Generally a small garden will only require one Focal Point. With larger gardens there is nothing more boring than a flat garden with planting borders around the edges. Large gardens are made much more interesting by creating levels and rooms within the large space. Levels can also help create Focal Points. Stone pillars at the top of steps can be finished with stone balls or urns over flowing with bedding plants. These will then help to emphasis the steps that draw the eye to a central Focal Point in the garden. This can be a water feature, a sculpture or even a sundial. Larger gardens that can afford a space for a meadow can also be used to create Focal Point by simply mowing a path through the meadow. This path will lead the viewer’s eye down to where the point of interest can be positioned.

Focal Points can be created through the use of arches that can help focus the eye onto a single point. The canopy of an allee of trees creates a wonderful arched walkway as seen at Anglesey Abbey. The skeletal structure of the trees provides ghostly interest through the

winter months whilst in spring when the trees come into bud the walkway will be lined with yellow narcissus drawing these viewers

A door at Rofford Manor is used as focal point by harnessing it in place using topiary either side and using Lavandual ‘Hidcote’ to draw the eye toward it.

eye through walkway to the Classical Urn set on a plinth. This idea can be easily translated into ones won garden by creating a walkway lined with pleached lime trees. At the base of the lime trees you could use swathes of narcissus or tulips. At the end of the pathway position a beautiful piece of sculpture or even salvaged urn. Salvage materials are good at adding time and history to a garden. Pleached Carpinus betulus used at Hidcote draws the eye to the ornate gate and brick pillars. However here Lawrence Johnston has created a clever sense of intrigue, as the viewer cannot see beyond the gate thus wanting to venture through it. Taxus baccata (Yew) can be used to divide garden space. An arch can be created in the hedge as an entrance leading from one area to another. The arch can be used to frame a Focal Point placed within the central axis of the arch, on the other side. This Focal Point can be a bust (as seen at Hidcote) or even a piece of furniture (as seen at Rofford Manor). However Focal Points do not have to be objects. They can also be other plants such as a grand old Cedar, a tree with an interesting bark, interesting shaped topiary or even logs that are neatly piled showing the circular cut faces. All these ideas can be successfully implemented in virtually any garden.

The arch in a Taxus baccat hedge at Hidcote frames the bust on the other side. Intrigue draws the visitor through the arch.


In almost every house the front door is the perfect Focal point that can be enhanced to draw the eye to the entrance. Of course one must make sure that the door is worth turning into a Focal Point. The photo of the door makes a good Focal Point. It has an elaborate filigree pattern in glass at the top and the door is straight away emphasized by the helter skelter Buxus sempervirens topiary set either side of the door. The square containers draw attention to the paneling in the door. The eye is further drawn in to the door by the rows of Lavendula ‘Hidcote’ that lines the edge of the borders. The pyramids on the lawn further emphasize the height of the door. Using Topiary either side of a door is a great way to make it a Focal point of a house. This can also be done with beautifully planted urns or containers. Another way this can be achieved is by placing tall lanterns either side of the door.

Symmetrical positioning of topiary, box balls and urns guides they eye toward the arch that frames the sun loungers on the other side.

 

A well-designed garden will always benefit from the use of cleverly chosen and placed Focal points.

MANOJ MALDE
THE CONSTANT GARDENER DESIGN. CO
www.theconstantgardener.biz
 

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