This month, Tim Sykes, garden designer at Gardenproud, looks at how carefully considered focal points can help make a garden come into its own…
In a photograph or painting, the focal point is the point of interest that helps make it unique. A garden is no different, here we create our own organic image, which we hope will please and engage for years to come.
It’s more complex, because it lives, breathes and changes with the seasons. Where we look and admire can be helped by the judicious use of focal points and how we surround and frame them.
Focal points can be objects or features inside or outside a garden that catch the eye. It can be a tree, a pond, a Chilstone fountain, a sculpture, a bench, a summer house, a rose gazebo, an element architectural, distant object or even a building that catches your eye.
In a small garden or yard, a singular focal point may suffice. In a large garden you can create a number of focal points, using each to draw the visitor from one interesting part of the garden to another. Sissinghurst Gardens is a prime example, where carefully positioned trees create avenues that guide the view. Urns, benches and garden elements help visitors find their way around the various outdoor rooms.
In our own garden, we soon discovered how fortunate we were to drive along the rolling Kent countryside and in particular to enjoy the potential view of apple orchards receding towards the horizon. One of the first things we did when we moved in about seven years ago was to open the hedge to reveal and frame this stunning view. It was very simple, we took a line of sight from our back patio and got permission to reduce the height of the hedge on a specific section.
We helped frame this by planting two specimen trees on either side of the opening. It was a simple and economical way to use the borrowed landscape to create a stunning focal point and extend the enjoyment and spatial impression of the garden.
Great garden designers such as Repton made extensive use of borrowed landscape. If you’re lucky enough to be invited, you can see it in the flesh locally at Bayham Hall, where the Marquess of Camden built a magnificent Gothic mansion, then employed Repton to design a park-like garden and consider the landscape beyond. It’s amazing how the trees are planted. Visionaries like Repton would never have lived to see the fruits of their labor, but these days we just buy more mature trees!
Many established artists and makers help us create focal points. I was extremely lucky recently to be invited to one of David Harber’s insightful tours and discussion sessions, designed to help us become better informed about how best to present objects in the landscape.
“Focal points can be objects or features inside or outside a garden that catch the eye. These include a tree, a pond, a sculpture or a summer house”
David has very cleverly created a range of sculptures available in different sizes and finishes to suit customer preferences and location. His sculptures are appreciated around the world and he works in residential and commercial settings. The contemporary nature of his sculptures helps to create a contrast with their natural surroundings. The ability to change the scale and even offer more personalized solutions allows the garden designer and the client to make the focal point more dramatic.
His most famous sculpture is perhaps his “TORUS” which can measure up to 2 m in diameter. It is crafted in a mirror polished stainless steel and can be delivered with an opposite side inlaid with heather blue slate ribbons. In Great Fosters the Torus sits at the end of an avenue of trees, in front of a lawn amphitheater carved in the style of the great landscape artist Charles Jencks – PERFECT
In our own garden we have an arch that frames the picture. A beautiful oak bench made by one of our skilled landscapers and a metal sculpture designed and commissioned by us and expertly crafted by local blacksmith artist Michael Hart.