Give Your Garden a Beautiful Focal Point
See some of the ways you can build or recycle a feature to provide your landscape with year-round interest
You may not fancy getting out in the cold and doing the work right now, but winter is the perfect time to start thinking about plans for your garden. Constructing a permanent feature is a project that can provide year-round interest when it’s done. Here are a few ideas for garden features you can make or adapt to enhance your landscape, large or small.
Build a new old wall. If you’ve inherited a garden with a stone wall, or you’ve cut down a hedge and don’t want to replace it, you could consider building a small wall folly. Here, a salvaged old door and its frame sit in a dry-stacked stone wall, tucked amid greenery, to create an inviting and secret entrance.
Buy stone from a local quarry to help ensure that you blend the materials into the space. If you have spare bricks or can match some from your house, these can also make a tumbledown-style wall. As long as they’re well-mortared, the ends can be made to look as if the wall had been left to fall at some point.
Create an arch. An arbor over a path, gate or gap in a hedge adds interest and height to a garden. It’s not unlike the idea of adding a porch to a house. An arbor makes the area feel more inviting and provides an entrance. There’s something magical about walking under or through plants, a bit like feeling nestled in the woods.
Position an arbor over a straight or curving path, leading the eye through the space. Create planting areas at the base of the uprights for climbers and fruit trees that can be trained to grow up them. An arbor or a pergola can also be placed against a wall for an enclosed seating area. You can opt for a rustic or a modern look to complement your space.
Change direction. Paving can dramatically alter the look of a garden — though choosing the style can prove to be a minefield. Besides natural stone paving, there are many good concrete products, as well as clay pavers, bricks, cobbles and even porcelain.
A lot of people shy away from mixing paving types, but sticking to one kind can be overpowering, even in a small space. Breaking up large areas of paving, either by changing the pattern or by introducing a complementary product, can become a design feature in its own right. Paving can guide you to another area, help you change direction or introduce a new element to the hardscaping.
When buying paving, be aware that natural stone has many color variations and that one piece can look very different from the next. Do some research and, if possible, get more than one sample to try at home.
Claudia De Yong Garden Design, original photo on Houzz
Spruce up your shed. Sheds don’t have to be be hidden away in the corner of a garden and disguised from view. Even if you have an existing wooden one, you can make it look better with a simple makeover — there are so many lovely paint colors available now. You could also make small raised vegetable beds to sit next to the shed, and paint them in the same shade, as shown here.
Make your shed part of the garden by building a brick path up to it. At minimum, plan for a bit of hardscaping at the entrance to avoid that soggy, muddy grassy area so often found in front of sheds.
Place planted pots on both sides of the door and add a birdhouse to encourage nesting birds. Think about training sweet peas up the side for the summer, or plant a non-vigorous climber for color and greenery.
Divide your space with gates. At the back of this long, narrow garden, brick pillars support a pair of salvaged iron gates. The gates create a feeling of grandeur and lead the eye toward a statue.
Harrington Porter Landscapes Ltd, original photo on Houzz
Gates of any style, whether wooden or iron, help create an entrance, divide areas and provide spaces on each side for plants. Any break in a wall where you can put gates or an old wooden door will make the space beyond feel like a secret hideaway and encourage the feeling of a private world further on.
When planning to hang a gate, you may need to fix it to posts too, so allow extra room when measuring.
Feature a tree. Structural garden features can include trees that are already in your garden but may not be where you wish they’d been planted.
Some trees are beautiful in their own right and have a well-shaped canopy. But if yours lacks a good form or is beautiful but looks a bit lost, try to turn it into a main feature, either by creating a path around it and underplanting, as shown, or by having a handmade wooden seat built around the base.
Trees look wonderful lit at night too, and if you’ve made a feature of your tree, why not show it off with some uplights?
Turn a falling-down structure into a folly. A rundown building can be a daunting sight, especially if you inherit one in the garden of a newly bought home. A collapsed and neglected building may be costly to repair. But, if you’re lucky enough to have one that can be salvaged, it can be transformed to make a small hideaway or seating area, smothered in honeysuckle and other scented climbers.
Even an old greenhouse or shed can be adapted for such a use. If the greenhouse frame lacks glass, you could buy sailcloth to transform it into an outdoor tent.
Safety is key: Make sure anything you build or renovate is structurally sound and isn’t in danger of tumbling down while you’re sitting under it. If in any doubt, seek professional advice.
Bring in water. Having a water feature in the garden is like having a fireplace in a room: It immediately draws the eye. In addition, the sound of running water can help minimize any not-so-nice noises that may be around. Water creates movement and plays with light and shadows, reflecting plants, trees, the sky and buildings.
Dodson Bros Thatchers LTD., original photo on Houzz
Positioning a water feature, as with any new garden element, will open up new possibilities around it. In a very formal design, you can organize the areas surrounding it in a more traditional layout, perhaps choosing low, topiary-style hedging and hardscaping. With designs that are less formal, let your imagination run, and create a wildflower meadow or a lush planting.
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Add a fireplace. A solid wall in a garden can look dull unless you train climbers over it, install a living wall or use it as a water feature.
Another idea for a wall is to use it for an outdoor fireplace, which makes for cozy outdoor days and evenings during cooler months of the year. If you’re unable to burn wood and can’t put in a chimney to vent smoke, you can get bioethanol liquid and gel for outdoor use, which create flames but not smoke.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to create a fireplace, a fire pit or an outdoor pizza oven, then again use the areas to the side of this feature for plants. Nestle your heat source into a space so that it looks as if it has always been there.
Claudia De Yong Garden Design, original photo on Houzz
Get creative. If you like recycling or collecting unusual objects but have a hoard you don’t quite know how to use, here’s an idea. Use them to build a focal point or a hideaway in a forgotten corner of your garden.
In this example in the wild area of a garden in Sussex, England, old stained-glass windows, a dovecote and locally sourced pieces of wood have been assembled to create this lovely little rustic building, with rolls of brushwood screening for the roof.
Your project doesn’t have to be as large in scale — it could be a sweet lean-to for children to play inside or a simple screen to add interest to the route through your garden. The options are limitless; it just depends on what you have at hand.
See 12 More Great Focal Points for Gardens