As a landscape designer, I am always aware of focal points in the landscape, and how important they are to our outdoor experience. Focal points can be just about anything you can imagine. They are everywhere, and they have an impact on the quality of our lives. Like Desire Paths, we are drawn to them or to create them. I love all kinds of focal points, whether it’s the classic example of a statue, or a more modern example of a fire pit, because they are meant to be practical, fun, and/or beautiful.
What are focal points?
A focal point is the point at which all elements or aspects converge; the center of activity or attention. When you look at a landscape, the eye should be drawn towards a point of interest.
Focal points give a landscape definition and purpose. I often ask clients what they want to do in their landscape, in order to identify the focal points for their design.
A focal point in landscape design can be a destination, like a pergola, or an activity, like grilling on the patio. A good landscape design may have multiple focal points, including primary focal points and secondary focal points, but it will undoubtedly have at least one. An example of a primary focal point would be an amazing view of Mount Hood. In this case, the landscaping would be designed around the focal point, because the primary purpose would be to enjoy the view. All other focal points would be secondary and would support the primary focal point. A patio where you can sit and enjoy the view of Mount Hood would be a secondary focal point.
Changing Focal Points During the Seasons
Focal points can change with the seasons. Focal points don’t have to be statues, art, benches or even destinations that are fixed and constant. That firepit may not be the focal point during the dreary rainy season, but it becomes the life of the party on warm, mid-summer nights. A rill, which is a channel that carries water, can be both natural and man-made, and may only be active when it rains, but moving water is always a focal point, and has something for all of the senses.
Plants and trees can take turns as focal points throughout the year. In the spring, tulips planted around a flowering dogwood might be the focal point in a garden. During summer months a perennial flower border or the vegetable garden may well be the focus of attention and activity, while in the fall a dazzling maple would be ablaze in red and orange leaves that dramatically dominate the landscape. A simple pile of leaves ready for jumping into, or a pile of wood, stacked and ready to burn, become focal points for a time, a place, and a season. Sculptural plants like the corkscrew willow, or whimsical evergreens with dustings of snow, compete with snowmen to be the focal points in suburban front yards.
Planting a backyard habitat can make the birds the true focal points throughout the year, while water features, paths, and hedgerows can reinforce the architectural focal points, no matter the season.
Using Lighting to Emphasize Focal Points
Lighting emphasizes focal points in the dark (in addition to lighting for safety and perception). A large tree can blend into the landscape during the day and become the star of the show from sunset to dawn. A humble bench at the base of a tree, when downlit from the branches above, becomes a welcoming and romantic destination in the dark.
If steps and a path lead to your front door, then the lighting will emphasize a safe path in the dark, with the focal point serving as a destination. A Japanese lantern makes light itself the focal point at night but remains a sculptural focal point during the day.
With lights come shadows, and that’s often a consideration when lighting a focal point. A flatly lit focal point is not nearly as interesting as a focal point with shadows. Lights can keep focal points visible day and night, making elements like water shine and shimmer.
Contact Blessing Landscapes Today!
Focal points bring pleasure and joy to our lives. They can be grand like the field of a football stadium, or they can be humble and kitschy like plastic pink flamingos. One is meant for the roar of crowds, and the other is meant for good-natured laughter. There is nothing quite like having a water feature for a focal point, for the sheer pleasure and beauty of experiencing it. Whether it’s a small fountain or a swimming pool, a focal point can bring contentment or excitement to the environment. Focal points are an integral part of our landscaping, and they bring value to our property, hearts and minds. At Blessing Landscapes, we can help you identify your focal points, and bring them to life.