Newspaper Columns

Columns written by Greg Grant and a Smith Co. Master Gardener which have appeared in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, are posted here.

Learn how to use focal points in your landscape

Published on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 21:51 – Written by GREG GRANT, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Grant Jobe garden shed

                     Greg Grant

In my professional opinion there are five basic design principles that all successful landscapes truly need: repetition, scale, dominance, balance and unity. Last week, we covered scale. Now, we will take a look at dominance or the use of focal points in the landscape.

This principle is the one most likely to be abused because it takes advantage of our human nature to be attracted to things that call attention to themselves.

So be warned, landscaping is not about collecting as many flashy things as possible to look at. Landscaping your home is not about “decorating” it. It’s really more about making it fit in and belong to a place. And never forget, it doesn’t matter what it looks like now. When I used to teach landscape design, I always told my students, “Landscaping is not accepting what you see, but creating what you want to see.” Unfortunately, we like to see lots of things. The natural tendency is to place far too many focal points in a landscape. The very same appeal that causes one to purchase or collect a plant or item is the very thing that causes it to be a focal point when placed in the landscape.

My rule for focal points is to have only one per main view. When you are looking toward your home and garden from the street, you should have a single focal point that is dominant to all others around it. The same goes for looking out into your landscape or into any “room” in your landscape. This means you have to consciously decide what’s the most important and stick with it. There’s nothing at all wrong with making a change, but until you do, that item needs to be the king. This makes it much easier when you are shopping at the nursery, garden center or antique store to know whether your purchase or find will out-compete your existing dominant effect. Sometimes it’s hard to know until you place it in the landscape. This has happened to me many times (particularly with specimen plants).

So just what makes a focal point? Lots of things do. Hard materials in an otherwise soft green landscape tend to be focal points. This naturally includes statues, furniture, yard art and bird baths. Any contrasting change of texture attracts the eye. Therefore, fine textured grasses against other broad foliage, spiked plants against prostrate ones, or succulents near non-succulents are generally points that attract the eye. Certainly color does the trick as well, particularly complimentary colors – those opposite each other on the color wheel. These include purple next to yellow, blue near orange or red beside anything green. Why do you think red berries attract so much attention on green hollies? This is how some make the red front door of their home the focal point of their otherwise green landscape. As a general rule, looking at your garden shouldn’t be like looking into a kaleidoscope. The goal should be to use color to control the eye, not overwhelm it. This is why hedges of red tipped photinia and purple leafed loropetalum often come across as garish and distracting.

Size and shape also attract attention. If everything in a bed is 3 feet tall and you place a 15 foot tall specimen tree in it, eyes will be drawn to it. And certainly if you place a weeping or fastigiate specimen in a landscape, it will draw attention. These should be used sparingly, and only where one wants attention. Water acts the same way in a garden. Whether it’s moving or not, it generally draws the eye because it’s different. Therefore, any pond, fountain or bird bath is probably going to be a focal point, too.

Though it seems I have given the impression that you are only allowed a single focal point in your landscape, that isn’t true. Theoretically, you could have ones looking both toward and out of the front and back of your home, plus down each side and out designated windows. And if that isn’t enough, you could do as the English do and create separate rooms in your landscape, each with its own focal point.

Always remember that anything you can see from your landscape is considered a part of your landscape, whether you own it or not. It’s known as “the borrowed landscape.” And views can certainly be focal points. My parent’s house in Shelby is a prime example, as it’s located on a 500-foot hill. For years, I tried different landscapes and focal points in the backyard until I finally realized I couldn’t compete with the view. Every time something ended up in the way, it ultimately had to be removed.

If your focal point isn’t doing its job, just frame it. Placing like items on either side of an object or plant will help it become more of a focal point. The more frame you put, the more obvious it becomes.

Focal points don’t have to jump out and poke you in the eye, however. The wonderful power of design is the ability to control the eye. You can bring viewers to your focal point instantly or visually skip them along through a series of secondary focal points leading up to the main show.

Focal points can be very tricky and require either forethought to prevent making a mistake, or afterthought to admit (and correct the fact) that you made one. It’s a wonderful process, however, and well worth the effort.

Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. You can follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens,” read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at or read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine ( For more information on local educational programming, go to

Some garden chores to do in April

Published on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 18:35 – Written by ANDIE RATHBONE, Smith County Master Gardeners


There’s no denying it now, winter is over and spring is here. And judging by the non-winter we’ve had, it’s hard to say how much longer we’ll be able to enjoy our nice spring weather before the summer heat is upon us.

This is the month for plant sales, and it seems like there is one (or more) just about every weekend. Out local nurseries are also full of great looking perennials and annual bedding plants just waiting to be planted in your landscape. So clear the decks and get ready to spend some quality time in the garden. Here’s what you need to be doing:

– Prune spring-blooming shrubs and climbing roses after they bloom.

 – Deadhead faded flowers from roses.
 – Divide summer and fall-blooming perennials.

– Plant trees and shrubs if not done earlier in the year.

 – Mulch vegetable and flower beds to a depth of 4 to 6 inches to preserve moisture in the soil and keep the soil cool.

– Continue planting the vegetable garden. Add trellises for tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and pole beans.

– Plant eggplants and peppers.

– Plant warm-season summer annuals and summer bulbs, such as gladiolas.

– At the end of the month plant heat-loving plants like vinca, caladium, zinneas, portulaca and copper plant.

– Feed camellias and azaleas.

– Apply nitrogen fertilizer to evergreen shrubs, shade trees and fruit and nut trees around the drip line.

– Watch for lace bugs on azaleas.

– Check daylilies for aphids. Treat with a strong blast of water or insecticidal soap for severe infestations.

– Pinch back growth on chrysanthemums and asters to make the plants fuller for fall blooms. Continue to do this through mid-July.

– Keep on top of the weeds. Pulling them when they are small is a lot easier than when they become established.

– Clean out birdhouses and birdbaths. Keep your hummingbird feeders full.

Enjoy the wonderful spring weather and make the most of every day. The heat will be upon us all too soon.

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