Garden Design

Create Focal Points in Your Garden

The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book due to be released next year by Helen Yoest, Gardening With Confidence™.

As you walk down a garden path, your senses are heightened by the delight the garden brings.  With a continual swath of beautiful plants, the eye may register elation to your brain; but adding a focal point will register that same elation to the heart.

photo/Helen Yoest

photo/Helen Yoest

A focal point is the place for wandering eyes to rest; to bring the garden into focus.  A focal point can be a fountain, a perfectly placed birdhouse, or a piece of garden art.  It can be anything really, as long as it’s eye-catching enough to add emphasis to the garden.

A focal point will break up a swath of plants and draw the eye in to rest.  From there, the garden will reveal itself.

When selecting a focal point, keep in mind that it is meant to become the center of visual attention along a line of sight, such as a path, open space, broad border, or vista, offering the viewer something to focus on.  Without this, a relationship among the elements will not be established, whereby loosing the attention of the viewer.

The focal point should also stay within your garden style theme. Formal elements such an obelisk works well in formal gardens; birdhouses and birdbaths work well in cottage gardens.

Larger gardens or gardens with many rooms, large or small, often have more than one focal point.  Consider adding a focal point in many areas of the garden, being careful not to add more than one in a single location.  Ideally, when standing to view, only one focal point should be seen at a time.  As you move around the garden, other focal points can present themselves.

Here are some suggestions of focal points to add to your garden.

Specimen Plant
A large border of green can be brought to life with a focal point.  A red, feathery Japanese maple planted in amongst the evergreens will draw the eye in to rest before moving on.

Smaller spaces can also have one unique plant to call your attention and to jazz up the garden space; such as a small weeping Japanese maple, the orange leaves of cannas, or the sinuous lines of a weeping Blue Atlas cedar.

The sound of running water is often heard before it’s seen.  This prepares us for what joys might await.  In listening, we know as we journey through a garden something will present itself.

The sound of running water engages us in the garden, attracts wildlife and muffles unwanted ambient sounds around you, while at the same time causing the visitor to stop and reflect.

No matter where a fountain is placed, it will naturally become the focal point.  It will also become a hub for the wildlife it attracts.

By adding statuary to your garden, you add just a little bit of your personality.

Set a statue front and center or have it whispering for attention amongst the flowers and foliage. Statues demand attention whereby also adding emphasis to other features such as a pool or doorway.

Adding a single boulder or a series of boulders to a garden border adds drama and serves as a focal point giving the eye a place to rest.  Boulders also serve as a back drop to complement plantings within a border.  Given the rockiness of our area, adding borders is also appropriate for our gardens offering a natural alternative as a focal point.

As you focus on improving your garden display this summer, consider where you might add a focal point for year round enjoyment.

Helen Yoest is a gardening coach and designer through her company Gardening with Confidence™. You can catch up with Helen via her blog at

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