Using Focal Points and Garden Art

Barbara Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

If you are a gardener and enjoy your plants, you probably recognize the importance of a focal point which will enhance the beauty of these plants. A focal point can be anything that catches and holds your eye. It can be of practical use such as a bird bath, or it can be strictly ornamental. It can be a plant, or plant grouping, a whimsical or fun object, or a stately fountain or sculpture.

Decorating your garden is a matter of personal taste. Just about anything goes, but there are a couple of guidelines you may want to think about before you start.

Clutter is never a good thing.

Too many objects, even if individually they are very nice, will create clutter. Fewer objects thoughtfully placed among your plants will make a more valuable contribution.

Even the plants themselves can create clutter. I have occasionally passed houses where it looks like the gardener-in-residence bought every annual that could be found and planted them all together in the front yard. All those plants with their non-stop blooms are screaming for attention at the same time. It's chaos with no place for the eye to rest.

When I first started to garden with perennials, I felt frustrated that so many of them bloom for just a short time. I wanted each one to bloom all summer. Now I realize it's the subtle differences in the hues and textures of the foliage that give your garden that calming effect, allowing each plant its moment to shine before it deflects the spotlight to another.

Repeating colors help tie a scene together.

You may want to pick a color palette and stick to it. Years ago, I went out and bought a quart of blue, and a quart of Chartreuse paint which I felt complemented each other. I took every wooden garden feature, trellises, bird houses, planter boxes, large bird feeder, and painted each one color or the other. It was amazing how that made a difference in the way my eye travelled across the garden, and the way it connected all parts of my garden even though the plants were different.

The same idea can be accomplished with the plants themselves. I like to space some bright pink wave petunias at intervals across my garden. Even though the garden is filled with many different plants, the repeated color of the petunias unifies the scene.

Matching the style and size of your garden art to your house and garden is very important.

Benches, fountains, bird houses, feeders, and decorative planters are always safe choices when looking to decorate your garden. Just make sure that their style matches the size and style of your home. A very large fountain or sculpture probably looks its best within the geometric lines of a formal estate, while a rounded arbor or whimsical bunnies look at home within the curves of a cottage style garden. Many farmhouse gardens make good use of old farm implements as accents, while a cabin on the lake may feature a garden planted in or around an old rowboat.

Even a vegetable garden can have a focal point or garden accent. It's amazing how a well dressed scarecrow, a green bean tepee, an artfully arranged pile of rocks or a picket fence will draw your eye and add interest. How about an old wheelbarrow with some holes drilled for drainage and planted with some bright zinnias right in the center of the veggies?

Garden Art should be unique.

I like to shop for garden art directly from the artisans who have made it, or occasionally, even make things myself. I especially enjoy bringing things home from a road trip which not only dress up my garden, but bring back good memories.

To me, the important thing is that my garden should make me feel happy. It gives me a restful, serene feeling, and yet it fills me with excitement at its beauty. I like my garden art to work to enhance the beauty of the plants and add a little fun at the same time. Each piece of art does not have to be the focal point. Some things can be half hidden so that when you notice them, it's a surprise.

My "fun" addition last year was a brass headboard which I "planted" up in a corner among some evergreens because, well, every garden needs a bed, you know. Since it's nestled among the trees, it is only partially visible from different angles. It's not a focal point, it's a fun surprise. I especially enjoy it because it came from a very special friend.

Keep your garden groomed so your art can shine.

In the heat of the summer, it becomes a little more difficult to keep your garden looking fresh. You might be surprised how much you can improve the looks of things simply by weeding, deadheading, or completely cutting off tired expired plants. If you don't keep up with those things, gradually the uglies become your focal points, and you don't want that!.

When your spring plants have had their day, whack them off and make room for the new things coming up. Most perennials appreciate being cut to the ground. They will generally reward your efforts with fresh, new growth. If they don't, at least they are no longer attracting attention by being ugly. They'll be back next year. Use your pots and non-permanent garden art to fill empty spaces, or move them around to highlight what is blooming at the moment. Let your creative juices flow: it all helps keep your garden interesting!

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