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Aspects of Design : Mystery and Focus

Focus

A garden should always retain a sense of mystery. The entire area must not be revealed at once. A garden’s secrets should yield themselves slowly. This is easier to achieve in a large garden, but it can be done in small gardens too.

In a large garden, it might be possible to make a separate secret garden. Tucked away behind hedges or walls, its existence might be completely unsuspected from an initial inspection. Similarly, winding paths in large gardens will maintain the mystery as they are negotiated, particularly if the ground rises and falls. Divisions with hedges and walls create the same effect.

In small gardens, winding paths and secret gardens might not be possible for reasons of space, but hedges fences or foliage can be used to break up a clear view. For example, a tree of weeping shape might hide a seat, or shady corner with ferns.

In the smallest gardens, one or two large plants among smaller ones will break the view and create curiosity about what lies beyond. The sense of mystery is heightened if there is partial revelation. For example, a glimpse of a flowering plant behind another.

If mystery is created, there ought to be surprise when the secret is revealed. When a turn of a pathway is reached, a new garden vista might be revealed; or a nice view, a stream, a garden seat, a statue, a special plant.

It should not suddenly present the viewer with a boundary fence, a compost heap, or a busy roadway, a dirty watercourse or other disappointment. There must be a pleasant reward for investigating.

On a smaller scale, a plant larger than its neighbours might be hiding a special plant grouping, a little ornament, a handsome piece of rock or piece of dead wood.

Focus

As much as mystery seeks to delay our discovery of the garden’s secrets, focus is used to draw attention to particularly beautiful and important garden features.

The most obvious way to draw attention to a garden feature is to light it up. An ornament, the house itself sometimes, might be lit up by floodlight or spotlights. There are other ways of drawing attention to an object or plant. A straight pathway will immediately draw the eye to its end; single or double lines of trees, hedges, openings in walls and hedges achieve the same result.

Disguise is very often part of the reason for focussing attention on some object. For example, a piece of sculpture, or a good specimen plant might be used in an otherwise dull garden to deflect the viewer’s eye from the rest of the garden.

An interesting ornament, or seat, at the end of a short garden will distract attention from it lack of size. If the garden is short but wide, a path leading to the seat will reinforce the illusion of greater space and length.

Panels of trellis placed on a blank wall focuses attention on the trellis, not the wall. One or two climbing plants on a wall, while not completely hiding it, reduce its blankness by drawing attention to themselves, their shape and colour.

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