Loretta Gillespie is a newspaper columnist, garden consultant, and master gardener.

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In Focus
by Loretta Gillespie    

There are several reasons why people use focal points. By creatively using statues, specimen plants, artwork, large planters or even birdhouses, gardeners can draw the eye where they want it to go; often diverting attention from a design flaw, out-of-season flowerbeds or fallow vegetable gardens.

Focal points can be as dramatic, whimsical, artsy, natural or glamorous as you can imagine them, depending on your style and to some extent the limitations of your landscape. You can also “borrow” adjacent landscapes to extend a backdrop. 

Focal points can be utilized to draw visitors in the direction you wish them to take. For example, if you want your guests to use a side entrance or to choose a certain fork on a pathway, place a welcome sign or a birdbath at that point and surround it with cheerful blooming plants to engage the eye and watch as they follow this visual subliminal suggestion. 

Focal points can be destinations at the end of a pathway, like a wonderful weathered bench placed beneath a blooming rose bush or a shade tree with overhanging branches. 

Swings, arbors, gazebos and trellises can add a visual punch that piques the interest, luring guests along a lane to the garden gate or a secluded seating area. In that respect, focal points do double duty – they draw visitors down a wonderful woodland path, and then offer a view of where they’ve been. 

One of the easiest, quickest ways to create a focal point is with a statue that you love, one that will enhance the view, not detract or call attention away from it. Placing it on a pedestal often gives it more visual weight. 

Imagine living on a bluff above the ocean. You don’t want to take away from the natural beauty of the view, but you can enhance it by adding a large stone or boulder, maybe one that allows viewers to sit and admire the sunset. By situating this type of focal point off-center, then covering one-third of its base with soil, you have created the illusion that it has been there since the dawn of time. 

More formal focal points can be created and moved to suit the view if it happens to change from one season to another. Find a substantial sized container, one that can be moved easily, such as fiberglass or resin, fill it one-fourth to one-half full of packing peanuts or other lightweight filler. Add a good potting mix and plant a twisted Japanese maple, a columnar arborvitae or an impressive Italian cypress. Underplant your specimen tree with a delicate moss. Use this focal point wherever interest in needed. By installing up-lights for nighttime viewing you can set the mood and give your garden an instant romantic ambiance. This sort of focal point works well in the city, where space is at a premium, on a balcony, or a deck where otherwise you might not be able to garden. Several of these identical plantings set side by side would form a wonderfully dramatic focal point on an apartment rooftop garden. 

However, all focal points need not be quite so impressive. You might use a rustic birdhouse to draw visitors to a seating area, or to draw the eye higher and further out into the landscape. 

Color can also be used as a focal point. Create a hanging garden by forming an arch for an outdoor wedding, or a bank of roses with candles set in groups of three for an intimate al fresco dinner for two. 

Mirrors in the garden can create magical spots where viewers become part of the focal point. Hang one over a garden table set for tea, or use one in a vintage window frame to fool the eye into thinking that there is a garden room just through the looking glass. 

Visit public gardens for inspiration. Note how they use water as a focal point, along with structures, groupings of topiaries and works of art that help to bring the landscape alive with color. 

The possibilities are limitless. Use your imagination – try repurposing old window frames, doors, or even mechanical objects to create a unique focal point. People have been using colored bottles to focus attention to an area for decades. These “bottle trees” are said to ward off evil spirits as the wind whistles through the openings, so even sound can sometimes be used as way of making people turn and look for its origin. 

Remember, your focal point should be interesting, fun and reflect your personality. Go for it!

 

 

This article appeared in an previous publication of State-by-State Gardening.

 

Posted: 06/13/19   RSS | Print

 

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