Designing with Focus

There are a few rules of design that should be obeyed. Plant in threes and incorporate earth, man and sky height variations into garden vignettes are two pretty basic rules. I am sure you can send me dozens of photos of gardens that have broken these rules and still manage to look presentable. Generally speaking though, it behooves us to follow the rules.

The third rule is perhaps the easiest rule to follow. When focusing on design, create a focus in your garden.

Our eyes and our mind need a place to settle, to focus on, when viewing a garden. We take in the entire gardenscape and then search for a place to rest our view. Once we find that spot we look at how the garden relates to that focal point. It matters not if the garden is a small bed along a garage or a sweeping lawn that ends in a thick stand of trees. A garden landscape is visually and emotionally more appealing when we have focal points.
The alley along the great lawn at the Indy Museum of Art is planted as a woodland garden. I love this blending of formal and natural planting and design. Stone and grass paths direct us through the woodland garden as this statue creates a year-round focal point, an additional reason to venture into the space and a touch of formality in the woodland garden.

Let’s look at the gardens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for examples. Focus in the garden came be man made such as statues, benches, arbors or even a strategically placed large rock. OK-the rock is nature made, but man placed.

This statue is placed within a large grass opening surrounded by mature trees and paths that take visitors into the woodland gardens. The subject matter of the statue draws us in. We want to see this young boy's face and know what has him drawn so deeply into thought.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have fabulous focal points compliments of mother nature. A majestic evergreen, a rock outcropping, a valley view that leads the eye to a pond or for the really lucky a mountain or desert view fit for a postcard. Oh to be one of the lucky ones!  It goes without saying that if you have nature provided focal points, you should work with the gift, not against it. Gardens should lead the eye to the focal point and plants should enhance not compete or distract from the natural focal point.
The grounds at the museum include generous lawn spaces. These space are in proportion, balance, to the stands of mature trees. They allow viewers to stand at a distance that is ideal for taking in such a view. The statue defines the center of the open lawn scape, helping us define the space as well as draw us in. Finally, a bench reassures us that the lawn is to be explored. I like how the garden visitor becomes part of the garden scape when sitting on the bench- garden and viewer are one. 

A quiet spot given a bit of privacy by the graceful spruce.

At the far end of the expansive lawn is a reflecting pool and matching planters. Imagine how wonderful it would feel to stroll across this lawn early in the morning, dew still thick on the grass or, after a dinner party, arm-in-arm with a fellow guest to share a little private conversation. The reflecting pool mirrors the trees and blues skies- enveloping you in setting where nature and garden are in harmony.

These maidens look out across the lawn to the home.  


  1. Oh my...that reflection pool is a thing of beauty...I would LOSE any focus I had upon glimpsing that beaut!

  2. It is lovely!! The entire grounds are a wonderful place to explore. I will share more of the gardens soon.