My Top 1 Landscaping Tip For 2013

by Ben Bowen

Everyone loves lists- and this time of the year there are a million of them. How about a list of 1? Easy to read. Easy to follow.

(I totally stole this idea from this great article.)

My Top Landscaping Tip.... Focus

Elvin Bishop famously sang that he "Fooled around and fell in love". Maybe you can fall in love by accident- but you won't get a great landscape without focus.  Landscapes need focus.

It's easy to see a garden as a collection of plants you love. Plant the tall ones in the back, short in front- presto- instant garden! This rarely works the way we want. Why? The gardens and landscapes we admire have focal points- even if we don't realize they do. Chaos and anarchy are not good design principles!

What Is A Focal Point?

To me a focal point is a space or element in your garden that draws the eye. It is often a plant. Specimen trees, a well pruned or showy shrub, or a favorite perennial can all serve as a focal point depending on your landscape's style and design. Architectural elements- such as screen or arbor could also focus and direct the eye. Boulder groupings add weight to your landscape and can anchor even the wildest planting style. Garden art can also serve as a focal point. What works with the style of your garden? Here are some examples from our recent projects.

The boulder and screen combo provides a backdrop for native plantings.

The boulder and screen combo provides a backdrop for native plantings.

The custom pruned shore pine grabs your eye. As you proceed toward the home's entry there are other, lesser, focal points to guide you.

The custom pruned shore pine grabs your eye. As you proceed toward the home's entry there are other, lesser, focal points to guide you.

This simple water feature (our take on a tsukabai) is the focal point of a grand courtyard in Beaverton.

This simple water feature (our take on a tsukabai) is the focal point of a grand courtyard in Beaverton.

Antique pot with blue fescue. This simple element sets the tone for a garden in Lake Oswego.

Antique pot with blue fescue. This simple element sets the tone for a garden in Lake Oswego.

How Can You Use Focal Points In Your Landscaping?

  • Pick a few prominent spaces in your landscape.
  • Do you have an existing plant or garden element that can serve as the focus of the space?
  • Give the focal point some respect! Don't crowd it. Move plants that are the same height, color, and texture elsewhere. Let it stand out.
  • Complement it. Let the focal element determine what other material (plant or otherwise) is in that space.
  • Keep it in the spotlight. Literally. Utilize low-voltage landscape lighting to keep these facets in focus even after dark.
  • Sparingly. Don't let your garden become the equivalent of "New Year's Eve" (the movie). Too many stars is not a good thing.
  • Creatively. Take your personal style and boil it down to two or three fantastic plants, statues, boulders- whatever. Make them your own and make them shine.

I was once involved in a convention, participating in a  walk through the organizer was doing with the speakers. (Yes, some landscapers can speak.) He asked one of the speakers: "Do you know what your main points are?" There was an awkward pause. He then said: "Just make sure do. If you don't, no one else will either".

In a similar way, if you don't know what your landscape is about, no one else will either. The focal points in your landscape are the main points, the high points that let us know what your garden means to you. "Focus" on this one tip and reap the rewards in 2013.