One of the fundamentals of design, photography, art and visual communication of any type is that of creating focus. Focus assists and controls out attention, telling us where and what to look at. In the physical world focal points allow us to navigate a space, to make sense of it both visually and physically. For gardens they can be powerful mood defining elements that say much about you, the place and the garden space.
They can be subtle of they can slog you over the head. Edna walling would speak of a single red rose against a sea of deep green. In order to make focus work, the other elements need to play their part, just like a piece of old style musical theatre, the chorus members need to know their place and not steal the limelight from the leading lady. Keeping colour schemes and textures simple and restricting the palette, means that a burst of bright crimson against a sea of grey bluehas much greater potency than if it was competing against a fruit salad of bright colour.
Focal points by way of sculpture, urns, pots, seats, ponds, bowls are your secret weapons in pulling people through a space, manipulating them and making go where you want them to. A pot at the end of a path is a point of navigation, once you reach it and turn to your left, you eye locks onto a piece of sculpture and your next destination is subconsciously determined - and so on, and so forth until you have been directed around the entire space with no verbal coaxing or directing.
In formally laid out gardens of straight paths and avenues aligned along axes, focal points are the expected climax – without them these types of garden’s powerful geometry would be substantially undermined.
In a small space, its best to err on the side of simplicity, too many focal points will begin cancelling each other out. Here there should be a hierarchy of focal points, one or two as the key points of focus and the rest to take a supporting role. A small space overrun with small pots for example, will benefit from having one or two dramatically larger pots to make sense of it all.
In medium sized gardens I will always use some type of back drop to the space, generally a wall of some type. If there is no focal point incorporated into this back drop – either on it as part of a wall treatment or decoration or sitting in front of it such as a collection of pots or a grouping of clipped buxus spheres, for example, the space will lack punch.
Planting beds throughout a garden will always benefit from some type of focus. Soft and fluffy planting schemes full of billowing grasses and flowering perennials for example can be strengthened by incorporating some type of architectural planting or clipped topiary.
Apart from visual Focus, a space should also have functional focus. Perhaps one of the best ways to bring a garden to life is to endow a space beyond the back of the house as a highly irresistible gathering space – giving the space focus, making it clear where to go and where the heart of the garden is. A shade structure, a table and seating are all elements that make crystal clear the functional focus of a space.