Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Creating a Focal Point

The shrub rose 'Palmengarten Frankfurt' at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON.

The senses are bombarded with information in a garden.

Hollyhocks in the RBG, Hamilton, ON.

There are visual cues like color... 

The Rockery at the RBG in Hamilton, ON.

and shape. 

The climbing rose 'American Pillar' at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON.

There is also scent, ...

A bee on a fall aster 

sound and...

Moss covered rocks and fern, The Rockery at the RBG in Hamilton, ON.

 the tactile cues of provided by texture. 

When on top of all that information, a gardener mixes in a some garden gnomes, a few birdhouses, and/or a statue or two, a mild disquiet can start to creep in to the mind of the observer. When assaulted with too much information, what the mind wants most is an escape route.

A late fall bouquet of store bought roses in my favourite watering can.

I don't know about you, but when it comes to garden clutter, I really have to retrain myself. I love watering cans, birdhouses, fairies, mushrooms...gosh, what don't I like...well, maybe I can give plastic looking garden gnomes a miss, but you get my point; I love all manner of garden ornaments.

I don't believe you should feel that you have to rigidly adhere to design rules with regard to garden ornaments. It's your garden. Please yourself first! Heck, if you fill your garden with plastic garden gnomes, I say, go for it! Life is too short to worry about other people's opinions. 

But if you look around your garden and feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction, understanding design principals can help you identify what is and isn't working and then help you to correct it.

Brain Folmer's garden near Walkerton, ON.

This finally brings me around to the subject of today's post: focal point. 

Focal point is one of those designer terms that you hear tossed around frequently. Commons sense suggests that it is a point of focus; something whose dramatic presence demands or fixes your attention on it. In a garden, using a focal point can also take away from that feeling of visual clutter by centring your attention for a time on a single point of interest.

The picture above is a classic example of using focal point in a garden. The eye rockets along the lines of perspective created by a walkway flanked with two parallel rows of ornamental grass. Your point of focus is a single object, the gazebo in the far distance. Curiosity about that distant structure drives you forward, along the path to get a closer look.

Let's look back the other way. Again, there is a single focal point. 

Brain Folmer's garden near Walkerton, ON.

What is that distant object anyway?

Brain Folmer's garden near Walkerton, ON.

I see now. It's an urn.

Fixing your line of sight on a garden focal point is like finding a stepping stone in the center of a stream you are trying to cross. It's a place to rest, to catch your breath, adjust your balance and then move on.

Brain Folmer's garden near Walkerton, ON.

Take a look at this garden scene. The bench is not only a literal place to rest, it is an object for the eye to rest on as well.

Lose the bench through the magic of Photoshop, and your eye starts darting all over the place. It is like a sentence without a period. The visual information provided by the mixed planting suddenly seems vaguely overwhelming. 

Brain Folmer's garden near Walkerton, ON.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. This is all well and good Jennifer, but I don't have acres of garden to work with in creating a focal point. Fair enough! I don't have vast acreage either.

In Part 2, I will show you some inspiration for creating a focal point in a smaller garden.


  1. I was amazed at the difference when you Photoshopped the bench away. You proved your point and then some! I can't wait for the smaller garden tips, because that is what I deperately need.
    The botanical gardens look gorgeous.

  2. Terrific information, Jennifer. Love how you used Photoshop to make your point. It really did prove that a focal point is essential. I'm looking around my barren garden and all I see is chaos. I have work to do!

  3. Dzięki pięknym zdjęciom pobudziłaś wyobraźnie. Rozumiem już na czym polega punkt centralny w dużym ogrodzie. Niestety ja mam mały ogródek i z pewnością tak nie może być. Czekam na porady punktu centralnego w małym ogrodzie. Ozdoby w ogrodzie- jak ktoś je lubi to niech zdobi nimi ogród i jego sprawa. Pozdrawiam. *** With beautiful photographs pobudziłaś imagination. I understand now what is the focal point in the large garden. Unfortunately, I have a small garden, and certainly it can not be. Waiting for advice a central point in a small garden. Ornaments in the garden-like someone likes them then let them adorns the garden and its business. Yours.

  4. I am looking forward to your part two. Loved that comparison with the bench, and then no bench...so very true. Wonderful post, as always. Thanks

  5. What a fantastic information Jennifer. The photo's are gorgeous and lead us true a the period untill we can celebrate it's spring again. Thanks very much for showing this treasures.
    Have a lovely week

  6. Great to read and learn - and I love the pics! :-)

  7. Great shots! The Hollyhawks are stunning. The photo of the bouquet should be framed. Beautiful perspective and angle.

  8. I agree with you Jennifer, all gardens need focal points in all seasons. Can't wait to see them in the small garden.


  9. I so agree with everything you have written here, focal points are so essential. Also "less is more" is something I keep telling myself, only one focal point to be seen at any one time or the mind just gets confused. Looking forward to the next post!

  10. Great illustration using photoshop and the bench. I really like this design series you are doing.

  11. Jennifer, this is such a wonderful post.
    Truly so useful to me, and I thank you so much for sharing it here.
    Also, as always, your photographs are AMAZING!!

  12. Love the point made with and without the bench, well done! Love the first roses, Palmengarten Frankfurt.... used to go visit the Palmengarten frequently when we lived in Frankfurt.

  13. Excellent information with great illustrations. Can't wait for part 2.

  14. How very interesting to see the photographs with the focal point and without. Instructive, for sure. I'm looking forward to your post relating to smaller garden spaces.

  15. Nice exploration and series Jennifer. Good illustrating too.

  16. Hello Jennifer girl !
    Thanks for stopping by and YES ! Zephirine D. is a special rose to me so I have to have one more to almost follow the rule of continuing with the same plant in another area of the garden .. Ilse Krohn satisfies my need for yet another near white rose with loads of scent to pair up with ZD.
    I chose Hortico because the do have lots to choose from and they don't insist on making you buy 3 .. Sure I could go wild and buy 3 or more but I have to be realistic and stick with the two I know are enough. Plus .. their shipping costs are less and they are right here in Ontario !
    The "one more" rose I would love to have is "Sugar Moon" a white shrub with citrus scent .. it is all over the American sites but not here in Canada so far .. or if it is I can't find it .. I think it is a "Weeks" rose like the White Licorice" I ordered from Botanus .. Boy, I would love to have Sugar Moon so hopefully next year it will be offered here in Canada.
    I love this post on focal points and YES !!! We have to be so careful with smaller gardens .. I have such a jumble here I know I could use some lessons on how to calm it down and present it in a much better way !!
    Joy : )

  17. These are beautiful. They make me wish for summer :)

  18. Goodness! Those roses are to die for! Alas, I have too much shade, sigh.

  19. Ciao Jennifer!
    These roses are just gorgeous! All your photos are so pretty! :)
    I love the one of the fall bouquet of roses in the watering can, wow!
    Have a lovely rest of the week, and thanks so much for your sweet comment :)

  20. Thanks for these posts Jennifer. As you point out these ideas help to provide structure to the garden and I'm finding lots to ponder while reading these series.

  21. Excellent post. Much food for thought! Plus all the beautiful photos...

  22. "A garden without a focal point is like a sentence without a period". Genius! Love it! Totally FANTASTIC!


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