This client didn't want to look out her patio doors and see a wood fence baking in the sun ten feet away, or the neighbor's house just beyond. She wanted a cool, lush tranquil oasis. An arbor took care of the harsh sun, and this simple fountain became the center of her small outdoor world. It is something one can gaze upon with satisfaction in all seasons.
This is more like my first concept of a focal point, an elegant narrow garden designed by John Black, for which I designed this blue water feature that can be seen and heard from the main living areas both inside and out. The simple yet elegant fence, made from covering the existing privacy fence with closely-set horizontal boards, sets it off perfectly, and everything else in the garden draws your eye there.
On this project my initial design had a smaller fountain (in this case a basalt Trinity) but the expansive patio made this a much more interesting option. It was my contractor's idea to use bluestone, which contrasts so nicely with the travertine pavers. The fountain was situated directly opposite the patio doors, framed by an arbor. This picture was taken immediately after planting over a year ago; the bamboo behind the fountain is giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) which will screen the fence and frame this focal point even more.
The fountain in my own front garden is the exact center of a design based on expanding circles; it can be viewed from many angles and is truly the heart and soul of the garden. When it is not running (which is rare) it is truly missed. It's not a distant visual, but something the whole garden swirls around.
My back garden fountain does much the same, in a subtler way. It quietly bubbles with a bamboo grove at its back and lush greenery all around. It is where my eye will go when sitting under my red umbrella, or when looking out from my office.
Water isn't the only element I put to work as a focal point; this windmill in my kitchen garden is one of my favorite things. There was one in my last garden that I missed so much I had to have another. I like knowing which way the wind is blowing!
Fire is another compelling element to focus on, especially when it comes out of sparkly blue glass; this simple fire pit is centered on one set of french doors and diagonally from another. The ability of fire to draw people together to focus on each other is much appreciated during our cool Northern California evenings.
A more traditional outdoor fireplace combined with cushy seating is conducive to serious outdoor coziness. The elegant lines of this pre-cast unit draw the eye without overwhelming the space.
Sometimes the functional components of a landscape become focal points, like this dramatic staircase that leads to a home set well below street level. It replaces a narrow wooden staircase ending nearly at the front door. This is much more elegant, and is the main visual element to anyone leaving the house.
And, of course, plants make some of the best focal points of all. Like this planted mound between a swimming pool and a fence that features a specimen Olive that can be seen from everywhere in this garden, and is especially dramatic when lit at night.
Plants turn this rather awkward fireplace punch-out into a dramatic centerpiece; turning a liability into an asset while keeping deck traffic areas clear.
Even something as simple as one purple poppy against a sea of orange makes a striking, if temporary focal point in the right light.
I think my favorite focal points involve the promise of some sort of destination; a spot that, once I arrive, will allow me to look back from where I came and enjoy the delights of the garden.
Even from the once little-used utility path along the side of the house becomes a colorful two-way view corridor.
Here a simple mulch path connects the teak bench not only to this home's front walk, but visually beyond to a simple, arching wood-and-copper gate that leads to a sunny rose garden. Sitting in one place and making the journey through a garden with one's eyes is another kind of focus; perhaps my favorite.
Thanks for joining me on this visual journey, but don't stop here! There are a lot more ideas about focal points to be had from my fellow Knights and Ladies of the Garden Designers Roundtable: check them out!
Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA
Carolyn Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA
Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : Hampton, NJ
Tara Dillard : TaraDillard.com : Atlanta, GA