BEST-OF-HOUZZ-2016

Focus on Focal Points

 

By Tony Catanzaro

 

If you take a close look at the majority of landscapes installed in New Jersey you may start to notice a pattern. What you will notice is your eye jumping around taking in all the many differing aspects in the landscape. You notice the collection and assortment of plants and colors that are typically placed in close proximity to the home and front walkway.

 

Webster’s Dictionary defines focal point as a center, as in interest, activity, etc. I think this simple definition helps us start to understand where many landscapes have gone wrong. How can you have so many differing focal points in one view? Why do we commonly try to jam so many differing elements in such a confined space as the front foundation beds of our homes?

 

The use of focal points is an important part of a successful landscape design. I would suggest limiting just one focal point per view and or perspective. The rest of the garden/landscape should lead your eye towards the focal point as the “center of interest”. This does not mean that the rest of the landscape be boring but designed in a pleasing and complimentary manner that leads you to the focal point and fits the surrounding architecture.

 

A focal point may actually be part of the homes architecture. Many landscape design books recommend directing ones eye towards the front door. I agree in the majority of cases. Many times the front entry is developed into a courtyard environment that becomes the focal point itself.

 

Other times the focal point is an existing view or vista that the landscape should “frame”. I have worked on many sites where with just a little tree work and careful placement of plantings and pathways an incredible view is discovered. It may be a mountain vista, a creek bed, a tremendous old Beech tree, or any other existing element you may have.

 

Other focal points that are not plants may be a bench, arbor, or pergola. These also help “frame” a view beyond them as well. Water features such as ponds or fountains can be appropriate focal points. Statues, artwork, antiques, etc. can all be used as well. The point is it doesn’t have to be a plant.

 

When using plants as a focal point choose one that will not quickly outgrow your location or encroach the surrounding plantings. It should “stand on its own”. Be willing to spend a little extra to get the proper plant and size. Keep scale and proportion in mind as well as color, texture, and seasonality.

 

Just the task of limiting focal points and directing view towards them (whatever they may be) should help in creating a better landscape design. Use the surrounding plantings to compliment and direct you towards the focal point. Consider the natural surroundings and try to include any natural points of interest in your landscape and you will end up with a far more interesting and viable landscape that will become a space that invites you to come and stay a while. So try to resist the impulse to crowd plant and stone collections in your landscape and really concentrate on designing a space with views that creates an experience for you and your guests.

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