Focal Points and Other Mechanisms to Direct the Viewer's Eye

  • 01 of 13

    Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Foundation Plantings

    Focal point example.
    Color, Symmetry Used to Create a Focal Point The central shrub in this arrangement is the focal point not only due to its position, but also due to its color. David Beaulieu

    Examples of Scale, Line, Focal Points

    You probably know that landscape designers create focal points to direct the eye to a selected area of the yard. For instance, symmetry is often employed to help focus attention on the desired spot. But the focal point is just one of the "tricks of the trade." Scale and line are examples of other landscape design concepts that deal with eye movement. In this photo gallery, I'll show you examples of how such concepts are applied. Clicking on the pictures below will take you to larger images and explanations of the concepts they illustrate.

    In this photo gallery, we look at various tricks employed by landscape designers for controlling the viewer's eye movement....

    Focal points are just one of those tricks, but that's what I'll begin with. In the example above, the homeowners clearly value their Chamaecyparis shrub: they've made it the focal point of their foundation planting. But how did they go about it?

    Well, centering the shrub in its foundation planting was obviously a good start. But in this case, centering is accomplished by more than just the placement of the Chamaecyparis; it's also a matter of how the other plants are arranged around it. Specifically, the other plants are paired off symmetrically, flanking the Chamaecyparis. The effect of this arrangement is to highlight the Chamaecyparis: it's the "odd man out" (in a good way!) in the arrangement.

    The status of the Chamaecyparis as focal point is further ensured by its color. Its golden foliage stands out from the red of the barberry shrubs and the green of the other evergreens.

    Another question: Why have a foundation planting here, at all? To answer that question, imagine the house without the foundation planting. The house siding creates rather strong horizontal lines, doesn't it? The shrubs help break up those lines, thereby softening the house's appearance. To that end, however, a taller central shrub might have been even more effective.

    Continue to 2 of 13 below.
  • 02 of 13

    Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Symmetry

    Picture of entryway symmetry.
    Symmetry at House Entries Examples of entryway symmetry. David Beaulieu

    Symmetry is also used as a visual cue in the landscaping example below....

    Homeowners often wish to draw attention to house entries. A simple way to do so is to use symmetry. In the photo above, there are two house entries. Focus is granted to each entry through the use of symmetry. But taller shrubs flank the entry to the left, injecting some much-needed variation into this design.

    Continue to 3 of 13 below.
  • 03 of 13

    Focal Points, Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Symmetry

    Picture showing granite columns flanking a gate entrance.
    Symmetry at a Gate Picture showing granite columns flanking a gate entrance. David Beaulieu

    In the photo below, symmetry, once again, is used to draw attention to an area....

    Not only is there symmetry at the house entry, but also at the gate. Furthermore, it's not just plant material that is employed symmetrically at the gate: notice the nice granite posts.

    Continue to 4 of 13 below.
  • 04 of 13

    Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Symmetry

    Picture of brick wall entry for driveway.
    Symmetry at the Driveway Entrance Picture of brick wall entry for driveway. David Beaulieu

    In the example of symmetry below, hardscape alone is used....

    The symmetrical brick columns and sweeping walls work to funnel one's attention to the driveway entrance.

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Focal Points, Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Framing

    This hedge helps frame a vista.
    Hedge Framing a Vista This hedge helps frame a vista. David Beaulieu

    When working with the concept of "line," hedges are, of course, a prominent option....

    This hedge helps to frame a scenic vista off in the distance.

    Continue to 6 of 13 below.
  • 06 of 13

    Focal Points, Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Borders

    Photo of fence with varying board heights.
    A Border "Defines" a Property Border elements such as fences define a property, turning it into a pleasing "nook.". David Beaulieu

    Border demarcations are one of the more obvious uses of "line"....

    But do you understand why? Let's consider the issue in more depth.

    Borders play an important role in landscape design. Whether we're talking about the whole yard or just a planting bed, a defined area catches the eye more readily than does one that is "open-ended."

    Don't believe me? Take a drive, and make it a point to note which landscape designs impress you the most. I can almost guarantee you that you'll find properties set off by hedges, fences or stone walls to be more attractive than those that aren't, all else being the same (similar houses, similar plant material, etc.). Such well-defined landscapes just look more "finished."

    Continue to 7 of 13 below.
  • 07 of 13

    Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Curved Lines

    A curved border planting.
    Planting With Curved Lines A curved border planting. David Beaulieu

    As mentioned earlier, curved lines have an impact on our perception that differs profoundly from straight lines....

    Consider the photo above. The curved lines of such plantings create a relaxed mood, indicative of a more naturalistic setting than one would see in a formal garden. Visually, the line seems to sweep us off gently into the woods, to the right.

    Continue to 8 of 13 below.
  • 08 of 13

    Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Curved Lines

    Picture of a curved flagstone path.
    Curved Flagstone Path Picture of a curved flagstone path. David Beaulieu

    A utilitarian path (over which you'll be carrying groceries from the car, say) should be straight....

    But if you have the luxury of meandering through an area, consider installing a path that curves. Curving paths are more conducive to relaxation, meditation, and the appreciation of any plantings you may have installed in the area.

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Curved Fence Picture

    In this picture, the curving fence is a perfect match for the circular courtyard.
    Curving Lines as Landscaping Visual Cues In this picture, the curved fence is a perfect match for the circular courtyard. David Beaulieu

    This circular courtyard cries out for a curved fence....

    And the designer didn't disappoint. This plant-filled landscape design is a tribute to geometry!

    Continue to 10 of 13 below.
  • 10 of 13

    Landscaping Visual Cues: Curved Lines

    Picture of curved foundation planting.
    Curved Foundation Planting Picture of curved foundation planting. David Beaulieu

    The use of curved lines in foundation plantings is very popular....

    Curved lines work especially well for long, low, modernistic homes, such as the one shown in this photo. The predominance of straight lines in such homes can be overpowering; curved foundation plantings alleviate this problem.

    Continue to 11 of 13 below.
  • 11 of 13

    Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Scale

    Large trees can help scale down two-storey homes.
    Example of a Tree In-Scale With a Two-Storey Home Large trees can help scale down two-storey homes. David Beaulieu

    In the prior photo, we saw a tree that was in-scale with a one-storey home....

    In the photo above, we have a two-storey home. Accordingly, the tree (a maple) is a larger specimen. It will grow taller than it stands at present, but it still won't dwarf this house. Good planning!

    Continue to 12 of 13 below.
  • 12 of 13

    Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Scale

    Trees for one-storey homes should be in scale with such houses.
    Example of a Tree In Scale With a One-Storey Home Shorter trees, such as dogwood, are more in scale with smaller homes. David Beaulieu

    The landscape design concept, "scale" is another that concerns the controlling of eye movement, as the viewer gazes upon a landscape....

    Scale often comes into play when one has to decide about a tree planting near a home. Take the yard in the photo above, for example. The tree (a dogwood tree) planted here can be said to be "in scale" with the house. Being a one-storey house, it is complemented best by a relatively short tree. A much larger tree would dwarf this home.

    But scale can also come into play when planning foundation plantings -- specifically, in plant selection for the corners in a foundation planting. Corner plantings should be taller than the rest. Let scale be your guide, adjusting allowable plant height according to the height of your house.

    However, sometimes you'll want to tweak the scale, so as to correct what you might view as a "fault" in the architecture. For instance, perhaps you feel that your ranch-style home gives too "horizontal" an impression. To correct this, plant something tall and skinny at each corner, such as Emerald Green arborvitae trees. Such corner plantings will break up the home's horizontality and lead the eye upwards.

    By contrast, it is the verticality of the corners that you may wish to combat with a house that is relatively tall, compared to its width. In this case, a small tree with a horizontal branching habit can soften the home's vertical lines.

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Focal Points, Other Landscaping Visual Cues: Whimsey

    Whimsical lawn ornaments can serve as focal points.
    Lawn Decor Focal Points Whimsical lawn ornaments can serve as focal points. David Beaulieu

    Controlling eye movement in a landscape isn't always a complex matter. Focal points can be fun, too....

    These homeowners apparently have a fondness for the space program. They've found (or constructed) a whimsical rocket ornament and installed it on their lawn. Its size and uniqueness grants it immediate focal-point status.

    Don't underestimate the importance of whimsey in landscape design. I find that the folks who derive the most enjoyment from their yards often have injected considerable whimsey into their landscapes. What else, after all, can lend a do-it-yourself landscape design as much authenticity as whimsey?