Using focal points in the landscape is one of the easiest ways to transform a ho-hum garden into one that feels more designed and intentional. The simplest of objects — an empty ceramic container, a potted plant or a pair of garden chairs — can be used as focal points. The key to hitting the mark designwise is all about placement. Here are 12 ideas for how to use garden objects and standout plants to draw and direct the eye in the landscape.
Focal Point 1: Scott Brinitzer Design Associates, original photo on Houzz
1. Inviting seating nook. Draw a visitor into the garden by putting chairs, benches and lounges where they can act both as inviting destinations and as focal points. To do so, place seating where it can be viewed from other areas of the garden or from inside the home. For example, a pair of Adirondack chairs at the end of the walkway makes an attractive vignette viewed from the house and gives a reason to wander down the gravel path.
2. Container among foliage. Work focal points into garden beds to provide a resting spot for one’s gaze amid drifts of plants. For example, an empty ceramic container nestled in the bed draws one’s focus and then encourages the eye to wander over the surrounding plants in a slower appreciation of the bed.
Focal Point 2: Banyon Tree Design Studio, original photo on Houzz
3. Pathway pivot. Corners and pathway intersections are prime spots for adding a focal point. In this garden in Seattle, a glazed ceramic container set against a lattice screen creates a place for the eye to rest as one walks down the pathway from one garden area to the next. The wooden chair acts as a second focal point for the latter part of the journey.
4. Simple sculpture. Anchor a formal garden with a focal point at the center of traditional beds edged with clipped boxwood hedges. For understated elegance, choose a sculpture with a simple form, such as an obelisk, and plant beds below with masses of a single bloom color.
Focal Point 3: TERRABELLA, inc., original photo on Houzz
5. Edgy screens. As an alternative to a hedge, use interesting screens to both provide privacy and act as a focal point. Here, a trio of metal panels calls attention to the interesting semitransparent design, rather than the neighbor’s deck. Panels and screens also could be used to form a point of focus at the end of a walkway.
6. Water element. Fountains and other water elements immediately attract attention in the garden, drawing one’s eyes to the movement of water and one’s ears to the soothing sound. Use fountains as focal points at the center of patios, set into garden walls or at the end of pathways.
Focal Point 4: Goessling Design, original photo on Houzz
7. Window frame. Use recycled objects and simple structures as focal points at the ends of pathways or patios. Here, a wooden window frame and a clipped shrub encourage your eye to linger on an area of the garden that would be easy to overlook. The screen also serves a practical purpose — marking a subtle grade change in the landscape to keep a visitor from walking over the edge of the patio.
8. Cottage garden shed. It’s easy and cost-effective to turn existing structures into intentional focal points. If you already have a garden shed, consider updating it with a fresh coat of paint and a few potted containers on both sides of the door.
For new sheds, think about their placement. Instead of hiding the structure in the back corner of the garden, make it the focal point of the side garden to bring attention to a less-used area.
Focal Point 5: Traditional Landscape, original photo on Houzz
9. Alluring garden gate. Another way to create a focal point out of an existing garden feature is to play with the surrounding planting palette. Keeping beds simple with all green hues and masses of one or two types of plants directs attention toward other elements of the garden.
In this garden in upstate New York, one is drawn down the curve of the path to the iron gate and left to wonder what lies beyond.
10. Showy specimen plants. To use a tree or a small shrub as a focal point, choose one with outstanding characteristics — such as spring flowers, interesting branch structure or brilliant fall leaves — and plant it with a bit of room to breathe. For example, put a specimen tree in the center of a patio or within a garden bed surrounded by lower-growing plants.
11. Raised vessel. Elevate simple objects to act as focal points by giving them more prominence in the landscape. Placing an empty urn on a pedestal so that it’s at eye level makes the object stand out more than if the same urn were on the ground.