Many people ask me: What is English Garden style? After visiting dozens of gardens throughout England, Iíve noticed a number of elements that are present in most English gardens. The element I see missing in most American gardens is the focal point. So, letís look at how you can add this important part of English style to your own garden.
There are two aspects to the focal point: What it is, and Where itís placed.
Choosing a focal point
Invest in one fantastic piece and make it the centerpiece of your garden. If youíre on a budget you may be tempted to buy a smaller piece and make do. Avoid that temptation. Youíll always regret it. Save your money until you can buy just the right piece.
Consider the overall architecture of your home when choosing a focal point. An old wooden wheelbarrow perfectly complements an old farmhouse, but a modern metal sculpture would not.
Also consider your own interests or hobbies when choosing a focal point. For example, if you sing or play an instrument, you might try to find a musical focal point of some kind (a sculpture of a boy playing a flute, for example.)
Antique statuary is very traditional. Antiques are also, of course, very expensive. However, good quality reproductions are now being made. Classic Greek and Roman sculptures are very traditional, so if your house is formal or very old, you might want to consider one of these.
A wonderful bench or chair can also be a focal point. At the Museum of Garden History in London, I saw a creative way to use a flat concrete bench Ė they had grown several variegated euonymus around the back and sides of the bench to create a living ďback and armrestĒ. Concrete or iron benches add a formal look. Wood benches are usually more casual.
Archways and Pergolas are a must in an English garden. Adorn them with lots of climbing plants to make a shady walkway.
Water features can be as elaborate as a waterfall and fish pond, or as small as a birdbath or fountain.
Plants can be wonderful focal points, although it may take a while for them to grow enough to make a statement. Imagine the graceful branches of a weeping willow next to a pond, a wonderful specimen plant like a weeping Japanese maple, or a shrub with interesting branches like Harry Lauderís Walking stick. These would all be interesting even in winter.
Bird feeders can make wonderful focal points and help nature too.
An urn or pot holding a large potted plant can also be a good choice. Be sure itís big enough to make a statement.
Where to place a focal point
Where you place your focal point is just as important as choosing the focal point. The major point to consider is from where youíll view the focal point.
Place it at the end of a straight path for a classic, formal look. As you walk down the path, your eye is drawn to it, inviting you to come closer. This is a good spot to place a bench or statuary. Frame the beginning of the path with an archway and youíll complete the picture.
An informal garden calls for curves. When a path curves out of sight, people are drawn down the path because theyíre curious to see whatís around the corner. Reward them with a wonderful focal point that isnít seen until they turn the corner.
To keep attention within a space and away from the edges, place the focal point in the center.
Go inside your house and look out the windows you use most often. This is a great way to decide on a placement of a focal point so you can enjoy it every day, even during bad weather. I built a waterfall and fish pond on the side of my house which can be seen from the window going up the stairs inside my house. Every time I go up or down the stairs I get a glimpse of the waterfall.
If your focal point is a bird feeder, place it outside your kitchen or dining room window. This way you can watch the birds while youíre eating breakfast.
If youíre brave enough to install a maze or knot garden, youíll definitely want to view it from above. So think about placing it where you can view it from an upstairs window.
Finally, consider how to frame your focal point. If itís a seating area, you might want to back it with an evergreen hedge so you feel secure that nobody will sneak up on you. Surround seating areas with fragrant plants so you can relax and enjoy the fragrance. Add an arbor to create a cozy feeling.
Surround sculptures or statuary with short plants that complement rather than overwhelm the focal point. I saw a great example of this in The Regentís Park in London. A modern bluish-gray sculpture was surrounded at the base by blue Hostas which perfectly complemented the gray color of the sculpture. Also, since Hostas are grown more for the leaves than the flowers, they didnít steal the show when they bloomed.
The exception to this is for arbors or pergolas, which should be covered with lots of wonderful climbing plants. See the related link below for more information on arbors.
If your focal point is a little too small, raise it to eye level by placing it on a pillar.
Creating a focal point should be the first thing you consider when starting your English garden. Everything else will flow from there.
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