April Tip of the Month: Create A Garden Focal Point


Most effective gardens have focal points—not a lot of them, but one per viewing area. A focal point helps your mind make sense of space. It can be anything from a well-placed fountain, bench, sculpture, or arch to a unique tree or striking planters and urns. The best focal points help unify your experience in a space while strongly contrasting with other garden elements nearby. Focal points differ from accents, which are not as powerful but keep things interesting in the landscape.

At Braveboat Harbor Farm, Cynthia Hosmer designed her expansive gardens with numerous axes and focal points. In the lush vegetable garden, she installed an arched white gateway at the end of a central axis featuring a straight flagstone path, a pair of iron gates, and a gazing ball.

As you walk the path, the tall, rose-covered archway draws you forward, past the iron gates and around the gazing ball, giving you a sense of destination from one point to the next. The design effectively pulls you through the arch to the next area of the garden. Without the axis and focal point, this cottagey vegetable garden would lose its visual punch.

You can also use a focal point along a winding garden path to draw you beyond the next curve. If the path is narrow and shady, set a handsome urn filled with brightly colored shade-loving annuals just before the bend, and experience the effect both from a distance and up close. If you’re looking for more information, my book, The Homeowner’s Complete Tree & Shrub Handbook (Storey Publishing 2007), discusses focal points and accents. Create a focal point in your garden—I think you’ll be pleased with the results!

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