Garden features and focal points.

I always spend hours contemplating what features will work in my garden designs, the focal point in a garden is a fundamental element in any space that not only gives the garden a heart but is a statement of you as a person.  Some people know instantly what they want in their garden while others just don’t have a clue.

Garden Features

By far the most asked for feature in my books has to be the water feature.  Water is a gorgeous element in the garden whether it be moving or still but there is a mind boggling variety on the market theses days from old barrels to expensive sculptured glass creations costing 10’s of thousands of pounds.  I really feel that a water feature should either look part of the natural landscape in the garden of be attention grabbing enough to warrant pride of place.  Let’s face it there are hundreds of really naff water features around that grace the shelves of every DIY store nationwide, if something is going to be significant in your garden then I beg of you that it warrants its elevated position.

Ponds are by far the largest water feature option you can have (unless you are lucky enough to have a lake, river or even the sea!).  A pond can come in many guises, from the natural wildlife pond to the ultra modern reflective pool, and all need to have a sense of place within the design.  It is no good simply building a pebble pool on your patio or installing a stainless steel wall of water in a cottage garden simply for it to stand out like a sore thumb.  Every feature in the garden should be a considered addition that complements the space, not an object just for the sake of it.  In fact that is the key to successful design in all aspects of the garden from plants to patios to arbors.

When choosing a water feature obviously budget is a key factor for most people, you can find really cheap features for under £40 that are actually pretty cool and would fit into many garden settings there are also many that are absolutely awful, I won’t mention what and where for fear of offending people!.  I did a search on the internet for cheap water features and there are many good companies out there offering innovative ideas.  If your budget is larger then the world is your oyster from glass, stone and steel off the shelf items to bespoke works of ‘art.’

Plants make ideal focal points in the garden and should be chosen for their striking features.  Look for a plant with an interesting form, leaf colour, berries….anything that makes it stand out from the crowd.   I have a beautiful Acer palmatum ‘dissectum’ placed in a large black pot outside my French doors and it always begs attention from all that see it.  It has a fantastic arcing form and delicate finely cut leaves that go bright red and orange in the autumn.  Plants in pots work particularly well as do topiary and carefully placed specimen plants which will draw the eye.

The ideal feature in a garden for me is something that says something about you or holds some kind of story attached to it.  Try looking in architectural salvage yards for old sculptures, pillars, bits of old buildings, gargoyles, anything that is out of the ordinary and will raise the eyebrows of people you invite into your garden.  Look for pieces that will differ from that of your neighbours.  I may sound like a bit of a snob but I hate the idea of have a feature in my garden that 100’s of others can and have bought from the local DIY store, it is an opportunity for you to make a statement and have a bit of fun.  Sculptures are fantastic additions as focal points, just take Broomhill sculpture garden for instance that showcases all kinds of sculptures in a garden setting; they show that fantasy, art, and creativity take pride of place and give a garden an edge.

Once you have chosen your feature, how is best to show it off?

If you have spent ages contemplation a feature for your garden you will want it to be shown off in the best position.  There are a few ways of positioning features effectively.

The first is to stand in the house and look out the main window that over looks the garden and position the feature in line of view from there.  Views from the house are vital in the placement of features and plants and can enhance the atmosphere inside the home.

The next is to place a feature at the end of a path, this will draw the eye to the it and encourage you to walk up it and take a closer look.  To enhance this effect you can place a pergola over the path which will frame the feature showing it off even more.  An other effective technique is to place plants either side of the path that will act as a frame, for example lollipop bays, clipped box, juniper ‘skyrocket’ etc.  It is great if you can create a network of views in the garden. For example, at the end of one path you can see a feature plant…then when you walk up to it, you look another way and your eye is drawn to a water feature on the other side of the lawn, you plod over to that and there is another path leading to a summer house….I think you get my drift.

For a more subtle look obscure a feature slightly by placing it amongst the planting, this works best with items that have the feeling that they are from a ruin and have been lost for years.  Try this with old looking Italian sculptures, architectural salvage, or even old tools.

Formal pools look best when placed in context with the building itself.  Buildings are usually very ‘straight’ in their make up and by placing a pool by following prominent features from the house the house will give it a sense of place both in the garden and in relation to the building.

Ponds work best at the lowest point of the garden, because this is where water would most likely to collect naturally.  I feel natural looking ponds work best away from the formality of the building and should blend seamlessly into the space looking as ‘natural’ as possible.  This might sound like an obvious thing to say but I have seen so many ponds that blatantly are man made, with dodgy crazy paved edging, the liner half exposed and even plastic fake water falls that are not even close to being convincing.  Ponds are a beneficial both in terms of design and encouraging wildlife so careful consideration to its position and construction needs to be had.

Finally once you have chosen and positioned your feature you may well want to see it at night!  Lighting is one element in the garden I could never do without and by illuminating features, paths and seating areas the garden takes on a new lease of life during the night.  Subtle lighting is always by far the best option, play around with the position of any lights so they don’t shine in your eyes when you wander around.  You can illuminate features from the front, from behind, above, below, create silhouettes and even use coloured light to great effect, so try all sorts of different positions until you find the best suited.