A focal point tree for the patio

Japanese maple are stars among trees. Portland Japanese Garden.

I need a tree that has star quality. It must also be happy in my Colorado garden. This tree will keep watch over the pond and be a focal point from the new patio. It will have a backdrop of prairie flowers from the patio view. That is not the only direction the tree will play a focal role. The view from the house will have a horizontal line of ornamental grass hedge obscuring the patio from the house. A domed shape above the hedge will create another visual layer between the grasses and large tree line at the property edge. The Acer palmatum pictured above would be perfect! Except I’ve already killed three japanese maples! The hot summers and dry winters are too much for a tree that loves consistent moisture of an East Asian forest. So I must look at the qualities that make a tree a focal point and choose a variety for the Colorado garden.

So what makes a tree become a focal point? A shapely figure helps.


A tree’s shape is often the first thing you notice. In the maple above you see a billowy cloud of leaves atop a contorted trunk. Or among many rounded shrubs a striking vertical element stands out. A tree’s shape in relation to the other elements in its direct line of view creates impact. Most often you evaluate the overall shape of a tree when considering form. Other interesting elements include multi-trunked trees whose form on the vertical axis draws the eye.

Vertical spires of Cyprus sit in contrast to rounded olive trees. Delphi temple Greece

When using form as the centerpiece for interest, the overall size of the tree must also considered. The shape you want will not be seen if too large. If too small it will not have the intended impact. Taking photos of the area you’d like the tree and measuring the height of the maximum viewing point can guide your tree search. Some of the keywords to use when looking for tree shapes: upright, pyramidal, spreading, vase, weeping.


Color is important to a tree’s visual weight in a landscape. Evaluate the colors within the current scheme during all seasons to determine the best color to meet the impact you want. For example, the tree below is green like all the surrounding trees yet its lime green leaves make it stand out from the rest. Color in winter may come from evergreen leaves or berries left on the tree.

Unknown maple glows against the backdrop of darker green. Butchart Gardens.


Texture is not only about how a material feels in your hand. It is a landscape characteristic that adds variation to a garden. In the maple photo above you notice among the shrubs a variation in leaf size. A large leaf size can make a tree feel more substantial. Compare this to the fine frilly nature of a deeply lobed maple leaf. The latter creates an airy and open feel to the tree.

Bark adds its own special character. A bark’s texture will draw the viewer in to touch. The chunky chesnuts below have deep ridges. The bark of one grows straight and the other twists. The bark texture can be focal along a path.

Chesnut trees bark with deep ridges. Kew Gardens

Bark can also tell a story that might not otherwise be known. On the tree below I imagine it having a difficult journey to its grand state.

Chesnut tree bark up close. Kew Gardens

So with all star quality characteristics in mind what kind of tree should I chose?

Stay tuned while I look into resources from Tagawa Gardens and the Colorado tree farm nursery to choose the best focal point tree.

Check out more Design tips here..

An amateur gardener who loves to watch the garden grow.