The 10 “Must-Haves” in your Landscape: #6 Focal Points

Focal PointThis is the sixth in a series of articles on the Ten “Must-Have’s” in your Landscape.  Ahh, focal points.  As a designer, we are always creating focal points.  Just what does the eye see when it follows a line of sight? Hopefully something interesting, intriguing, or something that says “wow, look at that!”  Several things can be used as focal points such as benches, plants, birdhouses, fountains, statuary, planted containers, and pathways. There are a lot of hardscape items such as outdoor patios, dry creek beds, and boulders that also serve as focal points, but these will be covered in another blog all about hardscaping.  So how do we use focal points effectively? 

1. Don’t overdo

I love the photo to the right.  There are several focal points in this picture, but it all works together.  First your eye sees the bridge in the foreground, then the chartreuse of the Japanese Maple, then the texture of the Weeping Willow, and finally the burgundy leaves of the background tree.  I took this photo in a Japanese themed garden overseas.  Most of us don’t have a yard this big, so multiple major focal points probably wouldn’t work too well.  Think about one main focal point, the one that you want the eye to see first.  This photo inspired me for my yard.  The chartreuse leaves of the Japanese Maple stood out to me so I made a Coral Bark Japanese Maple my main focal point in my back yard.

2. Major and Minor Focal Points

You can have several focal points in your yard, just not a lot of major focal points in close proximity to one another.  Our eyes can get overwhelmed when there are too many things going on and they can’t focus on just one thing.  You want your eyes to go to one area of the yard, then move easily to other areas that have minor focal points.

3. Main Lines of Sight

Pathway Focal PointThere are some obvious lines of sight that should be thought about.  Firstly, the walk up to the front door.  See the blog on Welcoming Front Entries.  There should be minor focal points along the pathway, but a major focal point at the end of your line of sight when you look along the pathway.  This may be your front door, a fountain, annual beds, planted containers etc.  I had to include this picture of a pathway with a focal point at the end.  Pretty amazing!  Another line of sight is when you look out from your house into your yard.  What do you see?  What do you want to see?  For me, my main line of sight is from my breakfast room which has the view of my back yard. My major focal point is the Coral Bark Maple, but I also have several other Japanese Maples, some in containers, that serve as minor focal points in other areas of the yard.

4. Focal Point Plants

Harry Lauders Walking Stick plantThere are some pretty amazing plants out there.  For instance, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.  Wow!  This is definitely a focal point plant especially when it flowers. When you use a plant as a focal point, make sure there is nothing else around it that will compete for first prize.  You want to make your specimen plant look its best, so keep other things around it very simple.  Weeping Japanese Maples are great specimen plants and can be grown quite well in containers.  I use them in containers under large trees when it becomes impossible to plant anything because of the tree roots.  Some other great focal point plants are topiaries, weeping cherries or redbuds or weeping anything for that matter, palms, yuccas, or any other plant that has a little drama.

5. Benches

Regina's BenchBenches are great focal points.  Not only are they visually appealing, they convey the message to come sit and stay a while. This bench is in Regina’s yard (another one of our designers).  The bench is the main focal point, but when you look closer, you can see there are other minor focal points such as the containers to the left, and the bold foliage behind the bench.  Note the color tones of the containers and how it ties in with the bench color.

6. Containers

I always tell people to take time choosing containers.  Often we get too busy to plant anything in our containers, but if you have attractive containers, they should be able to stand on their own, even if we haven’t adorned them with plants.  Hopefully you will find time to plant seasonal color in your containers. The designers at the Family Tree can give you lots of wonderful ideas on container gardening.  Place the containers wherever you want attention in your landscape.

7. Birdhouses, Bird Baths, and Fountains

Bird FeederI recently added a bird feeder to my yard and it has become one of my favorite focal points. You will see from the photo that there is also a bench tucked away in the background and I love to sit there and watch the birds come and go. Bird baths are also great focal points as a lot of these come in very bright colors and will definitely stand out in your landscape.  Fountains add a visual element as well as a sound element. There is something about the sound of water by a front entry, or a back patio, so if you don’t already have one, add this to your list of “must-haves” for the future.

8. A little bit of Whimsy!

BikeIt is nice to see the unexpected, or something that just makes us smile.  Take a look at this cute bicycle (also in Regina’s yard).  Who would think about putting a bicycle on the wall underplanted with grasses!  Regina would. Not only is it a focal point, but it is also a conversation piece.

If you are still not sure where to begin, come in and see us at the Family Tree. We also offer a free Quick Sketch or a full Landscape Design Service that will help you get started.

Happy Gardening!
Tracy Davis
Horticulturist/Designer

Check out the rest of Tracy’s list of the top 10 ‘must-haves’ for your landscape!

#1 Foundation Plants
#2 Trees
#3 Screening
#4 A Welcoming Front Entry
#5 Pops of Color
#6 Focal Points
#7 Nooks
#8 Hardscaping
#9 Entertaining Areas
#10 Animal Friends

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