You may be lucky enough to live nearby a gorgeous view that you can 'borrow' for your garden. If not there are also lots of design tricks you can use to help provide a focal point in your garden to really pack a punch! No matter what size garden you have a focal point can really make the most out of your green space. Garden Ninja explains everything you need to know about Borrowed Views using jaw-dropping examples.

If you’ve started to dig around a little into the world of Garden Design or been binge-watching Gardeners’ World you’ll have come across the term Borrowed Views. Other terms like focal point or eye hook are sometimes used and it may have sparked your imagination on using these yourself in your garden. What on earth do these terms mean? This guide will show you exactly what they mean and how even in the smallest garden you can make the most of these garden design tricks!

What is a borrowed view?

A borrowed view is a garden design term used when one garden ‘borrows’ a view from another space. This can be in the same garden or external to the garden such as a vista or other object in the distance. Sometimes this borrowed view maybe a rolling field, mountain range, running river or in some cases a high rise block of flats! Check out my post in Nan Lian gardens for their amazing city borrowed views.

The borrowed view is used to draw your attention outwards from the immediate garden space. This has two benefits.

  1. It extends your view making a garden feel larger than it maybe is
  2. It provides a focal point or destination to the garden

The really impressive thing with any borrowed view is when a designer makes it feel like both the view belongs in the garden and the garden belongs in that greater view. Confused? Don’t be it will all become clear!

A ‘Moon Gate’ is a great example of a borrowed view you can use in even a small garden. In this example, I’m using the field behind to extend the view.

How to create a borrowed view

Creating a borrowed view can be relatively easy, especially if you already back onto a gorgeous vista such as a hillside or rural area. You’re taking an external view and framing it without your own garden as if it is part of your garden. Hence the term ‘borrowed’.

A borrowed view can still be achieved even if you live in the city. I’ve seen chimney pots used as borrowed views to link into planted terracotta urns on a roof garden for example. Very Mary Poppins!

A romantic gate leading through to a garden
See how this formal garden borrows the view from the next part of the garden? Enticing you to carry on your journey?

Even some of the most unusual views such as industrial backdrops or even electricity pylons can be used to good effect. It depends on the style of garden and planting you’re using. Sometimes really brutal contemporary gardens can steal a borrowed view of a factory skyline to give a real juxtaposition to the garden. Especially if you replicate the materials or colours used within the garden.

A great example of a borrowed view is the infamous Derek Jarman garden in Dungeness on the South Coast of the UK. Taking in Dungeness power station as the borrowed view and out to sea, this brutal yet intriguing garden shows how even an unlikely view can become part of your garden. Using driftwood and reclaimed salvage the garden uses both focal points and borrowed views to an incredible result.

Derek Jarman’s Shingle Cottage with its borrowed views and focal points

You can be really creative in turning a borrowed view into part of our garden. It doesn’t have to be an amazing vista but the way you can frame external views can really help give your garden a wow factor. A gap in a hedge can bring a borrowed view to the next part of the garden or other area or can be used as a focal point.

A borrowed view through some beech hedges
This garden uses simple Beech Hedging and Borrowed views of other areas of the Garden.

A real awe-inspiring borrowed view can be found at the gardens of Marqueyssac in France. This bonkers garden sits on a plateau and not only features masses of formal clipped box but takes in a vista that goes on for miles in the backdrop. So whether you have acres of fields or an industrial grey backdrop these examples show how you can still create an amazing garden with borrowed views.

Garden Ninja in Marqueyssac gardens in France
The rolling hills behind are hundreds of meters down below but you wouldn’t know!

What is a focal point in garden design?

A focal point is any item be it sculpture, plant, hedge, building or structure that is used to draw a visitor to it. A focal point can provide a destination for someone journeying around the garden or an area that stops a person allowing them to pause in the garden. Focal points are however often overused diluting their value. Ideally, each area of a garden or garden room should have one focal point per destination. If you put too many in it becomes confusing and you can get perplexed as to where to go.

A wooden arbour with red hot herbaceous borders
In my Sunshine Garden for the BBC at RHS Tatton the Focal Point was the hand-built arbour. This arbour gives you somewhere to travel to in the garden.

See how the wooden arbour above draws your eye as a destination in a garden? Next to it is a wooden seed bench which supports this as an area of interest. The barometers on the back of of the arbour act as an eye-hook using the colours of the plants (more on that below!)

The Nan Lian Garden uses multiple focal points, borrowed views and eye hooks. Their most impressive focal point is the Golden Pagoda. It calls to visitors to journey towards it. See how its bold colours make it stand out?

Focal points work really well to give you somewhere to travel. Focal points also give an item of interest for your eye to be directed to in a garden. They can be large or small but need to stand out in their own way. You could use a bench, a specimen tree or a sculpture to provide the focal point.

You can try out the position of a focal point simply using a garden bench or chair as the potential object. Move it around the garden and then walk back to the house to see how it looks. Does it draw your eye or attention there or stand out awkwardly? This is a good exercise for working out where your focal point should be in a garden. You’re wanting it to guide your eye and lead your visitor to an area of interest, relaxation or to guide their journey around the garden.

What is an eye hook in garden design?

An eye hook is a term used where a reference point in the distance is then linked to the immediate garden. A great example of this is where a chimney pot on a roof garden is then replicated in the garden such as the same colour material or shape. Eye hooks help merge both the foreground and the background in a garden. I’ve used eye hooks extensively in the Exploding Atom Garden to pull in the trees on the surrounding road. This makes the garden feel connected to the wider view.

The exploding atom garden with eye hooks to beech trees
In the Exploding Atom Garden, I use eye hooks with the Purple Beech trees in the far distance by using them in the garden making it feel like the garden goes all the way to the horizon

A good way to locate an eye hook is to look outside your garden and see what jumps out to your eye. This could be a texture, colour or tree for example. You can replicate this on a smaller scale in your own garden such as planting a smaller specimen tree of the same style or using a piece of sculpture that copies the colour of the eye hook.

Whilst you can’t easily change your surroundings you can be clever in the way you incorporate colours or textures into your own garden. It’s far easier to work with this that screen it off or try and fight against it.

Focal point sculpture in a formal garden
This sculpture acts as a focal point and an eye hook as its mirrors the cone shape of the clipped yew

By using borrowed views or focal points in a garden you can take it to the next level. By using a point of interest in a garden you’re helping guide the visitor to areas of interest and providing a purpose. I’ve seen some amazingly beautiful gardens but they fail to have any direction or subconscious purpose. By adding a focal point of using a borrowed view oyu’re helping to quietly direct your visitor. Just like a director of a movie or curator in an art gallery.

Borrowed Views & Focal Points in Garden Design can provide:

  • Direction and focus in your garden leading a visitor around
  • Can slow down your viewing of a garden
  • Maximise the use of space by making the garden feel bigger
  • Can utilise distant vistas helping bring cohesion to your garden and the wider landscape
  • Provide mystery and intrigue to the garden
  • Help extend interest in your garden rather than just flowers or ‘obvious’ layouts

So whether you have a small urban garden or a huge garden that rolls on for days borrowed views, focal points and eye hooks can be used to create a far more immersive garden design experience. It doesn’t need to be expensive or mean massive garden changes. Small tweaks to bring in colours or textures from the wider environment can help make your garden feel bigger than it is. Borrowed views allow you to steal space from outside your garden and provide breathing space to otherwise more contained areas.

Have you used a borrowed view in your garden? If so why not TweetFacebook or Instagram me with your pictures! You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs.

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