7 Ways to Create a Stunning Focal Point in your Garden

For many, a garden is simply an outside space that is purely functional and they give little thought to the aesthetics of their garden.

However, the truth is, a garden can be just as functional with added beautiful design features. Plus, you won’t only have a functional garden, but a beautifully designed one as well.

A brilliant way to make your garden look wonderful is to introduce focal points into the design.

A focal point is an area that is designed to immediately draw attention to a specific space. There are many ways of achieving this in an outside space, for example installing a pond or a statue as the main feature of your garden.

Without further ado, I will touch on 7 ways to create a stunning focal point in your garden.

Summer House

summer house

Summer House

A summer house is a perfect example of creating a beautiful yet functional piece in your garden, giving something that draws the eye as well as a place to enjoy your summer afternoons.

Summer houses (also known as pagodas) are often relatively pricey, though the more DIY savvy among us may be able to construct one for a fraction of the price of a prefab summer house.


Garden Paths

garden path

Garden Path

A beautiful pathway can definitely inject a bit of life into an otherwise lacklustre garden.

Whether comprised of basic paving stones or a complex, geometric , mosaic pattern, you can make it as simple or as elaborate as your heart desires.

There is simply no end to the creative prospects you can bring to the garden path table and it can be done with relatively little funds and technical ability.




Statues have steadily fallen out of fashion in modern garden design. However a sculpture can be a very stylish addition to your property and can add an air of class, providing a timeless piece of style to your outside space.

Granted, you won’t be able to commission Michelangelo to create a master centrepiece on your lawn, but with a bit of searching you may be able to find the perfect piece of sculpture to give your garden that classic, renaissance feel or an ultra modern facelift, depending on your style.




If you ask me, no garden looks complete without decking. Not only is it a very attractive visual feature to have in your garden, but it’s also a very functional piece of design, providing a fantastic outside space to relax and entertain.

However, for the more aesthetic-oriented garden owner, plain decking can look a bit, well…plain.

Well, the good news is there are many creative remedies one can apply to spruce up decking!

How about painting it wild and crazy colours? Training climbers and vines to wrap around the balustrade of your decking can really help to marry your decking and garden too.

Decorative Pots

plant pot

Decorative plant pot

There are many, many shapes, colours and styles of pots, so finding the right one for your garden can be challenging. They’re great for adding a splash of decoration to planting borders, scarce areas of patio and even arranged amongst the flowerbeds. Hanging pots from the outside of your house can really brighten up a dull looking wall as well.

And who says you need a pot to plant things in? Repurposing everyday household objects as growing containers can really create a touch of creativity to your garden. Using things like old watering cans, bird cages, wellington boots and even antique bathtubs as planters can be an exciting and innovative garden idea.




Some garden owners are put off buying a pond due to their size.

However, a pond can be as big or small as you want it and can also be tailored to perfectly fit your garden.

A small 2×2 foot pond could fit snugly into the corner of your garden or patio and provide a lovely home for fish, frogs and other aqueous wildlife.

It’s easier than you think to choose the best pond for your garden.




If a pond just doesn’t quite cut it in the style department, a fountain could be more your thing.

Originally a purely functional object used to channel spring water into a basin for drinking and washing, fountains gradually migrated from being used to being admired.

These days, fountains can be found as a main decorative feature in many gardens around the world. Some, such as King Fahd’s fountain in Saudi Arabia can even fire jets of water, in this case up to 260 metres into the air!


Hayley is the PR manager for millracegardencentre.co.uk. She enjoys spending her time gardening, drinking coffee, and ebaying her socks off!

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Garden Pergolas pt 2 – Styles and materials: What should you choose for your garden?

Last week, we looked at how to know if your garden needs a pergola, and if so, how to place one correctly, so that it looks good. This week, we’re going to take a closer look at the details of styling option available, of which there are many…

Timber-PergolaThe material types and sizes you choose for your garden pergola will have an enormous impact on how it will look. It’s really, really critical to get the right materials and especially the right size of materials in order for the pergola to look right.

A pergola needs to look good even if it’s not covered in plants. Whilst plants will hide a multitude of sins, they do take quite a while to become established and unless you’ve chosen evergreens, you’ll see everything in the winter months. So let’s make sure you get it right, so you don’t have to wait years for the plants to cover it up!

How to get the right size pergola for your garden

In order for a pergola to look good, it has to be both the right width and height. The right height is fairly easy, approximately 7ft high (2.1 m) is a good starting point. Pergolas can certainly be higher than that, but they shouldn’t really be any lower.

A 7ft high pergola allows someone that’s under six-foot tall to comfortably walk under it without feeling like they need to duck their head down. It also allows for the plants to hang down a little bit. Obviously if you are taller than six-foot then the pergola definitely needs to be higher.


It’s important to get the correct width to height ratio

When it comes to having the right width pergola, that gets a little bit trickier.

If your pergola is 7 ft high and you have a path underneath it that is 2 ft wide, then if you were to put the pergola posts at 3 ft apart (1 m) that might sound about right, unfortunately it won’t look right.

Having the posts that close together will make the pergola look very tall and skinny. So visually, in order to look right, the posts would need to be at least 4 – 5 ft apart, width-wise.

If you require a pergola that is over 7 ft tall, then you’d need even more width, to make sure it looked right.

Also, the larger the pergola both in height and width, the chunkier the materials need to be, in order for it to look right. So if you want a really wide pergola then brick pillars or really big bits of wood would be required.

Now we’ve covered the height and width, what about the length?

Thankfully, when it comes to the length of a pergola, you have a lot more flexibility and freedom. It can be as long or short as you need it to be to suit your situation.

Also, the spacing between the posts or pillars for the length, can be different from the width. Unless you are planning on an L-shaped pergola, then they do need to be equal so that the corner works. So, for example, you can have a pergola that is 5 ft wide with the posts for the length every 6-8 feet apart etc.

Choosing the right top for your pergola

Just to add to your array of choices, the timber you use for the top of your pergola can be, and often is, a completely different size to the timbers you use for the rest of it. Again, a lot of the choice comes down to the overall size of the pergola. The bigger it is, the larger the top sections of timber or metal need to be. It tends to look better to use wider but narrower sections of wood for the top to the posts.


Pergola example using 4 x 4″ posts with 6 x 2″ tops

A combination I use quite a lot for medium-sized pergolas is 4 x 4″ posts with 6 x 2″ tops. For small gardens I use 3 x 3″ posts with 4 x 2″ tops. For larger gardens 6 x 6″ posts and 8 x 2″ tops works well.

Pergola styling

Yes, there’s more! It doesn’t just end with choosing the right size pieces of timber, brick, metal or whatever materials you’ve chosen to construct your pergola from. The real detail to pergolas comes in how you finish the ends.

It’s the ends of the timbers used on the top of the pergola that dictate, often more than anything, the overall style of it. Your choice of end will make the difference between the pergola looking very traditional or modern, as shown in the examples below. Basically, the more ornate the end, the more traditional the pergola will look.


Pergola timber ends from traditional to modern and contemporary with no end at all!

What material should you use to build your pergola from?

The choice of materials comes down to your tastes, but probably more likely budget. As wonderful as the traditional round stone pergola pillars with ornate metal tops look, in reality, that style pergola does cost a small fortune. So timber is usually the most popular option, because it’s the most affordable.


Of course, you can do a combination of brick and timber, but as soon as you are using brick or stone, then the costs do escalate dramatically.

It takes a lot of skill to build a brick pillar pergola because of the time it takes to line up all of the pillars correctly. If a single pillar is slightly out of alignment or skewed at an angle it will throw the entire pergola off and really show up when the top is put on.

I bet you never knew how complex a simple pergola could be! I must admit, I hadn’t realised how much there is to think about until I wrote this. At least it explains why I spend so much time on them when I do put one in a design.

Garden pergola examples

Here’s a selection of pergolas that I have come across on my travels.


A selection of big metal pergolas I came across in Tomelloso, Spain. Though don’t copy the proportions of these – they look like they’ve been designed for giants!


The very traditional stone pillar with timber and metal tops from gardens in Granada and Madrid, Spain.

Finally, a selection of timber framed pergolas from Spanish and UK gardens.


Pergola alternatives

Now, if you’re still unsure if a pergola is right for your garden, or you are concerned about the costs, then there is another option available to you. Planting rails can look incredibly effective in the right settings. I’ll go into more detail on how and where to place the planting rail in the next article in this series.

Need Help Designing Your Garden?

Are you on the mission to design your garden yourself? These step-to-step Online Garden Courses will tell you exactly how to design a perfect garden from scratch. This article was an excerpt from the Great Garden Formula 3.0 (our main online garden design course).

BUT do be warned, a nice pergola will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses/

Garden Pergolas pt 1 – How to know if your garden needs one?

Having a pergola in the garden can be a very nice feature as it adds height and year round interest. However, it is critical that they are correctly situated otherwise it could end up looking out of place and a bit of an eyesore!


As wonderful as a pergola can look, they certainly don’t suit every type of garden, so how can you tell if it will work well in yours?

Before we look at the where of pergola placement, we need to cover the why. If you get the why part right, then it will help you place the pergola properly.

So why do you want a pergola in the first place?

  • Is it to help screen the neighbours from viewing directly into the garden?
  • Is your garden flatter than the proverbial pancake and you want to create some height and interest?
  • Or, perhaps, you just really fancy the idea of having a pergola and don’t have a specific problem to solve?

Anything you place in the garden has to have a purpose, even if it’s just a visual one and never actually gets used. So if you chose the last option, be very careful to make sure your desired pergola actually works with the rest of your garden.

How to correctly place a pergola

You need to think, first and foremost, of a pergola as a path. Completely ignore the fact that it has upright posts and roof like cross beams. Just think path. Now ask yourself, would you put a path in the location that you are planning for the pergola? Would it look right? Or would you be thinking, why on earth would I have a path there!


Things making sense visually is critical, as I mentioned earlier. A pergola is really a fancy walkway, so it needs to go to and from somewhere in order to make sense.

If it doesn’t initially make sense, don’t worry, there are things you can do. If a walkway style of pergola doesn’t seem to work, then consider a corner one instead, as shown in the example gardens below.

A corner pergola also works well in small gardens as it doesn’t take up too much space. The other alternative to a corner pergola is one that juts out from the house, usually over the patio doors. If you choose the latter option do be careful about how much light it will block out, especially when it’s covered with plants.


So, if the pergola doesn’t form a specific function, i.e. it’d not really needed to add height as you already have trees or it won’t work as a path and you don’t require shade over a seating area, then I would suggest you don’t go for one.

I certainly don’t use pergolas in every garden I design – I probably only put them in 25% of the gardens I design, because they are not needed.

Next time we’ll look at the different styles of pergola design you can have and the different types of materials they can be constructed from.

BUT do be warned, a well placed pergola will NOT be enough to give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses/

Garden focal points – Statues and sculptures: How to choose the right ones

Here’s a little excerpt from the new Great Garden Formula 3.0 online course…

A garden statue or sculpture make a perfect focal point when positioned correctly. The job of a good focal point is to draw the eye to certain parts of the garden as well as break up the monotony of the planting to create additional interest. They are especially valuable in the winter months when the plants are not flowering.


Where you put a statue comes down to the design and layout of the garden. A well-designed garden will utilise the space well, and the shapes of the lawn patio areas will draw the eye from one side of the garden to create interest and the illusion of space, if needed.

Focal points, like statues, pots, seating and sculptures can then be placed at each turn in direction, as shown in the example image below.


The effectiveness of the garden focal point placement all comes down to what it lines up with. So, for example, the end of a view from your kitchen window might be the perfect place to put a statue. Or, you might wish to have it at a diagonal to your window to draw the eye to the far side of the garden. Other great places are at the end of paths, like a visual full stop.

What type of statue should you choose?

Well, let’s first start with what shouldn’t choose. Unless you have a baroque style of garden then I would suggest you avoid the pure white classical looking statues. Now, I should point out that this is my personal taste, rather than a major design faux pas. I don’t like the white statues because to me they look out of place in most modern garden settings, and if anything, they tend to remind me of cemeteries.

If you do like the classical style of statues, then considered the weathered versions that you can buy. These tend to be a more grey colour and look older and therefore don’t stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of the garden, as shown below.


Classical garden statues that have been ‘aged’.

There are plenty of modern looking statues and sculptures available in garden centres these days. Everything from modern art to natural rock formations, some of which have had a hole drilled in them and everything in between.

Modern garden sculptures

Choosing statues and sculptures is a very personal thing, it’s really it’s down to your own personal taste as much as anything. If you love the white classical statues then go for it. If you’re not sure exactly what is going to work well in your garden, then take a look at the other materials that you can use.


Sculptures from Burghley House and Hanna Pescar Sculpture Garden, UK

If you’ve gone for very modern paving and rendered retaining walls, then a more modern statue is obviously going to work much better than something very traditional and vice versa.

If you have a very natural garden style, then sculptures made from more natural materials like wood look good. A natural setting will take pretty much any type of sculpture though, because there is nothing to clash with it material wise. Both classical and very modern sculptures will look good in a natural setting, as shown in the example photographs above.

A quick cheat to tell if you’ve got the right statue or sculpture

If you take a photograph of your garden and then one of the statue or sculpture that you wish to use and either Photoshop it in or trace over the shape or cut it out and stick it on to the photograph in the location that you plan to put it in, that will give you a really good idea of how it’s going to look.

On a tight budget? Make your own garden sculpture

Of course, you could always make something yourself. My parents garden was absolutely littered with my DIY sculpture attempts. I think my mother was very relieved when that particular phase came to an end. I realised this when they moved house – they left them for the new owners to enjoy!

In Part 2 of garden focal points we’ll look at alternatives to buying traditional statues and sculptures and look at more natural alternatives as well as everyday objects that you can easily turn into an attractive focal point with a bit of paint and careful positioning.

Need Help to Design Your Garden?

If you’d like to know much, much more then take a look at the all new Great Garden Formula 3.0 Course that will tell you in details how to design your own perfect garden.

I will warn you, it is a BIG course, suitable for very keen amateurs that are possibly thinking about doing garden design for a living or for professional designers who want to get faster at designing and improve their current skill set.

If you’re looking for a smaller, basic course on garden design, then check the Long Garden Formula and the Small Garden Formula courses here: http://www.successfulgardendesign.com/courses/

Not ready for a full course yet? Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses/

Hot tubs – garden designer heaven or hell?

Spa-at-nightWhenever a client utters the magic words ‘hot tub’ my heart immediately sinks. I cannot stand them, especially in UK gardens! For me they are an eyesore that can be difficult to incorporate successfully into a garden.

My biggest issue with them is they can often stick out like a sore thumb. You have to have good access, so it makes them very difficult to screen.

So as you can imagine, I’m not really someone that spends time on websites checking out the latest design of hot tubs and spas. One of the Successful Garden Design readers, however, is. Danielle, wrote to me a few weeks ago on the topic and basically challenged me to change my mind.

She’s written the article below listing her tips and tricks for making a hot tub a garden feature, not an eyesore. Will she convince me on the merits of hot tubs? I’ll let you know at the end of the article!

Over to Danielle…

Designing a Relaxing Backyard with a Luxurious Spa

A hot tub can be a great addition to your backyard patio, as it provides a wonderful way to reconnect with your spouse, enjoy quality family time, and relax after a long day.

In-ground or above-ground?

When it comes to incorporating a pool or hot tub into your landscaping, there are lots of options to ensure your design is cohesive. The first decision to make is whether you want an in-ground or above-ground spa.

One of my favorite looks is to sink a hot tub into your deck so that the top of the spa aligns with the top of the deck. This can be accomplished with both custom, in-ground spas and vaulted, portable models. This look allows for a streamlined look and prevents the body of the spa from clashing with or overshadowing your yard’s existing design.


With this option, your deck’s railings can serve as an excellent privacy screen. If you choose to sink your spa into your deck, make sure to leave easy access to the spa’s structure for annual maintenance and servicing.

As an alternative, you have the option to install your spa above ground. Most spa manufacturers offer a wide range of colors and finishes for both the exterior and interior of the spa. If going this route, be sure to request samples or swatches of the materials to coordinate with your fencing and other landscaping fixtures.

Add a touch of personality

Some simple accessories can go a long way in making your spa feel like a retreat. Add some large pots of greenery and flowers for a tropical look, or as we head into the autumn months, decorate your spa area with some pumpkins and other seasonal accessories. Create an ambiance of relaxation with decorative pots, a colorful rug, and even a stereo system.

Around my pool area, I’ve added grapevines to grow along my fence. What I love about this look is it hides the fence and provides me with a little extra privacy. Include some tiki torches and a glass of wine (side note: only plastic glasses should be brought to the pool area) for a wonderful night under the stars.

Location, location, location

When choosing where to place your hot tub, pick a place where you and your family will have easy access to encourage the most use.

I’ve positioned my hot tub close to my home. I prefer to use it in the winter, when my backyard is covered in snow, so I want to make a quick dash to and from my house. When positioning your spa, find a place near a door for fast re-entry. If the door is near a bathroom, even better, as you’ll avoid tracking water throughout your home.


Don’t forget the health benefits…

After a long day at work, a hot tub can help you relax and improve your health. Hot tubs are a great way to slow down, reduce stress, and sleep soundly. Studies (http://www.bullfrogspas.com/hot-tub-wellness) have also shown spending time in a hot tub can strengthen your heart and reduce the effects of arthritis. Before using a hot tub you should always consult with your doctor.

My conclusion!

She’s rather persuasive, isn’t she! I hadn’t realised the health benefits were so great and I must admit I am rather taken with the round spas and those that are installed at the same height as the deck. She’s also definitely won me round with creating a material-clad pavillion style setting with lighting.

So congratulations Danielle, you have persuaded me hot tubs are not the most evil thing put on earth to test garden designers to the limit! The newer models, I begrudgingly will say, can look pretty good, but I’m still going to hate the older style ones!

BUT do be warned, features alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses/

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