What's your point of view?
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
IN ANY GIVEN SETTING the human eye will automatically seek out the most interesting and intriguing thing in it. In a landscape our eye will look for the church spire; in a field we look at the cows; in a dark corner we look through the gap in the hedge to the field beyond. It isn’t always obvious, but some of the greatest gardens work well because they have given as much, if not more, attention to creating vistas and viewpoints as to the planting. These provide relief and contrast to the detail and mass of plants and the experience of both is improved by the presence of the other.
Any garden of any size and in any setting can include interesting viewpoints, but the setting determines whether these need to draw the eye inward, away from the boundary or outward to ‘borrow’ the view beyond. A fully open aspect works better with larger garden spaces that can stand up to the scale of the surrounding landscape, whereas with a smaller garden human scale is needed, achieved by framing the view with carefully placed trees or hedges. Small gaps in boundary walls, hedges or fences are particularly effective and inviting to look through.
Where the garden’s surroundings are not so attractive, focus needs to be drawn into the garden. Any kind of circular ground pattern is effective for holding attention, whether in the form of pond, lawn or border, but can make the garden feel static so may not be suitable in all cases. Installing structural plants, sculpture, statues or pots, as focal points in strategic positions around the garden are effective in creating interest and encouraging you to move through the garden. It’s important not to get carried away – less is definitely more in this case as too many elements (including surface materials) start to confuse and distract; the simpler the arrangement the more power it will have. Think of a long pool of water, edged simply with stone, or a neatly clipped lawn, or a gravel path through an arch tunnel.
If starting from scratch, built structures such as arch tunnels, pergolas and arbours are handy for creating or screening views instantly, with or without a focal point at one end. Left empty, they are great for framing an attractive view whether nearby or distant. The style of the structure can create a focal point in its own right, so needs careful integration unless you want it to be the star of the show.
Built structures clearly cost to make or buy so if you are willing to be patient the cheaper option is to use planting – trees, topiary and grasses can all be used to great effect. In a mature garden careful reshaping of existing hedges, trees and borders can result in surprising new perspectives – sometimes it may be as simple as lifting the canopy of a tree or reducing the height of a hedge to open up a whole new world beyond.