APLD CT DESIGNER FORUM -- March/April 2013

Fashioning Focal Points

A repurposed weather vane fills an empty space in a newly planted bed.

Focal Point Fundamentals

A focal point is a spot in the landscape that adds emphasis to the composition and feeling of a garden, such as an element, sculpture, birdbath or plant to focus the eye. Everything in the garden should lead to the focal point, and you should love it as a personal statement.

Always select your focal point carefully to fit your garden theme, addressing scale, balance and harmony. These artistic principles apply to the landscape and adhering to them brings about unity in the garden.

Scale is the proportion of an object; the size of a thing in relation to its surroundings. The larger the garden the larger the focal point needed. Balance is the visual weight of an object. The visual mass of an object, or group of objects, needs to be balanced by a counterpoint, either symmetrically or asymmetrically. A simpler focal point is better in a busy garden.

Harmony is the ideal that we all work toward in the garden through texture, form, contrast, line and color. Major and minor focal points are necessary in any garden. Focal points give the eye a place to land, but too many are confusing. No major focal point should be in view of another major focal point; allow your statement to shine.

Lelaneia Dubay is a landscape designer, creative artist and owner of Dubay Design in Hartford.

Pairs of hedges, living focal points, draw the eye down the length of this garden.

Portable Focal Points

Every garden needs at least one focal point. But a focal point does not need to be large or static.

Portable focal points, small objects such as urns, tuteurs or repurposed and up-cycled treasures, that can be readily moved around your garden, are an interesting way to draw attention to various areas of your garden at different times of the year.

Movable focal points can be used to fill in gaps in new beds or borders, tie together a grouping of several different plants or simply shine a spotlight on your favorite shrub while it's flowering.

Portable focal points can be ideal for creating a distinct mood in your garden, whether it's formal, serene, whimsical or eclectic.

They are a simple way to update your garden and experiment with color. You can grow annual vines up a simple trellis structure and have pale blue flowers one year and hot pink the next.

Since portable focal points don't demand a long-term commitment, you can even change your focal point to match the season or your mood.

Debbie Roberts is a garden coach, writer and principal of Roberts & Roberts Landscape and Garden Design in Stamford. She blogs about gardening in Connecticut at www.gardenofpossibilities.com

A bright blue gazing ball complements the intense colors of nearby flowers.

Telling A Story

A focal point in a garden is an essential element in communicating design intent, and when fashioned well, compels the visitor to take pause and to engage in discussion.

A focal point can be created in many ways: a specimen plant situated to accentuate the architecture of a house, interesting statuary at a distance that draws the eye across a space, a rustic urn planted with succulents that invites questions, or a bench that asks you to pause and reflect upon a view.

Each offers its own experience to the viewer and affords the designer a unique opportunity to tell the garden's story and create a dialog with the visitor.

Through the use of a focal point, the designer can invite in a would-be visitor, or perhaps lead the visitor through the garden to reveal its secrets.

When combined with a place of repose, the designer can use a focal point to empower the visitor with a place of contemplation.

With each of these experiences, the designer is engaging the visitor, and asking questions. Whether it's a bold statement that overwhelms the viewer, or a subtle hint that reveals the garden's sense of place, a focal point is a powerful way of telling a story, of asking a question, and engaging in discussion.

The next time you visit a garden, look for the designer's intent. Ask what drew you in and leads you through the space. Is the designer using a focal point to communicate with you? Does it ask a question, and will you reply? You might be surprised at the dialog that will ensue.

Scott Hokunson is a garden writer, speaker and the principal of Blue Heron Landscape Design LLC, in Granby. He is also the co-host of "The Ultimate Backyard Makeover" on WTIC Fox61.

A simple urn steadies the eye in a garden with dense and busy plantings.