Focusing on focal points in landscape design

View Larger

The USDA Forest Service building uses statues as a focal point

The USDA Forest Service building uses statues as a focal point.

Landscape design covers a wide range of approaches to create a functional and beautiful environment. One of the most important elements in a design for creating an attention-getting landscape is the ‘focal point.’ A focal point can be naturally occurring, a carefully placed feature, or an object that will attract your attention to a specific place in your landscape. Focal points are used to bring an area of landscape into focus or a place for your eyes to rest.

Focal points can be created by single specimen trees or a grouping of certain plants. Differences in size, shape and texture are the keys to bring a grouping to life visually. A tall specimen tree surrounded by a small group of plants and shrubs will stand out more than if the tree stood by itself.

Focal points can be something as simple as a boulder, cobblestone accent, shrub, or a tree. In Albuquerque, a southwestern xeriscape is the perfect set-up for that type of simple, compositional focal point. Probably the most common focal points are statues, pot fountains, and boulder water features.

A focal point does not have to be visual. Don’t forget about your sense of sound. Personally, I love the sound of water trickling over rocks. Makes me think I’m sitting next to a stream holding my fishing pole.

A focal point should be something special that draws your attention when you glance at your landscape, but it does not have to be in your landscape. It could be a view of the mountains or river, if you plan your landscape to frame them.

Focal points can be an asset to your landscape, but you can over-do it, attracting too much attention. For example  you don’t want the ‘space shuttle’ in your front yard. A common mistake is having too many focal points, which can be visually confusing, and can also take away from the importance of having a ‘focal point.’ It can have a positive effect on your landscape if done in moderation. While you want a focal point to pop-out at you, you don’t want it to dominate your entire landscape.