Focal Points In Modern Landscapes- 5 Possibilities

by Ben Bowen

All landscapes need focal points, key elements that set the tone for a great garden. A landscape design without focal points is like a movie without a plot. Or a star. 

Modern Landscapes Need Focal Points Too

Modern landscapes take many forms, but many of us probably picture spaces like this. Now, I love a clean, even spartan, modern landscape. Minimalism can be great. But for a space to be truly livable it needs a hook- something that grabs your attention the 100th time you see it. Some gardens seem designed with a camera in mind, not a human. Clean element next to clean element next to clean element, all perfectly proportioned... after a couple viewings your mind just skips over it.

Focal points draw the eyes, focusing your mind on the space. From a focal point your eyes can wander to other elements. Effective focal points keep modern landscapes from becoming boring or sterile.

What works as a focal point for a modern landscape?

The possibilities are basically endless, but since that's a useless answer here are 5 items or elements that can be a focal point in your modern landscape design:

  1. Boulders. I know, I know. On this blog boulders are the answer to every questions and you are probably tired of it. But set a huge chunk of granite in the right spot and you won't be able to turn away. And lit up at night? The best.
  2. Water. Modern landscapes are often quiet, even muted. A little bit of water adds motion and texture in a way that feels natural. Want people to feel comfortable living in your modern garden? Add a bit of water to draw them out.
  3. Space. An expanse of space can be a focal point. Decomposed granite, slate, or even concrete can be used to create an area that anchors your garden. The key to making this work? Don't surround this open space with more open space of the same texture. There is a word for that. Boring.
  4. Plants. Plants are often utilized in mass installations in modern yards. The right individual plant, in the right place, can really grab you. Look for evergreens with very strong structures. I like dwarf pines in this application myself. Even humble plants, like flax or acorus, could be put in a corten planter and serve as a focal point.
  5. Statuary. Steel, concrete, and stone are all at home in the modern outdoor living space. Find a piece of art that fits your tastes and place it prominently. A simple sphere or square may be all you need.

I recently saw an article (can't find it now) where a designer compared modern gardens to deconstructed salads: lettuce here, vegetable here, vegetable here.... yawn. Don't let your modern home be surrounded by a boring salad. (I have never said or written that before.)

Give your landscape flavor and personality. Draw people into it. Create gravity with key elements that accents can revolve around. Use focal points to create a modern landscape that will age into a classic.

One of our favorite modern gardens.

One of our favorite modern gardens.