How to create a ‘vista’ in a middle-sized garden

February 25th, 2014 Posted In: Uncategorized


statue in White Garden, Sissinghurst

A perfect ‘vista’ at Sissinghurst – a just slightly mysterious statue at the end of a path in the White Garden, Sissinghurst.

This week, I’ve asked landscape consultant, Matt Jackson, to suggest tips for focal points and views.

A ‘vista’ may sound grand, Matt writes, but the use of it can be a great way to enhance depth, and add intrigue. By vista I really mean a focal point, view or perhaps even just a glimpse; something to catch the eye, draw attention and arouse interest.

As far back as the 18th Century the great English Landscapers realised that a view revealing all of its glory at once, removes the joy of reaching its end. A glimpse, a hint is far more exciting, like a flash of lace, a wisp of coffee or newly opened chocolate. Only on reaching your goal is the full delight and pleasure experienced, and this concept we can see in many of the greatest gardens – such as Stourhead and Sissinghurst – through history.


gate at Haseley Court

This pretty gate at Haseley Court tempts the eye down the path.

If your garden isn’t Stourhead or Sissinghurst, a vista is best initiated at the entry point, or the most commonly frequented section of the garden. It needn’t however focus at the end of a long path, and is often better if interrupted on foot by a hedge, wall or border. Being driven away from the ultimate destination only adds another layer of mystery about how to get there, and what will be experienced along the way.

A view or focal point in any garden may of course be ‘borrowed’. The horizon may hold a wonderful feature, as may the land next door, or you may have divided your garden into two or more ‘rooms’. It then becomes about how to frame such a focal feature, and there are many fine examples. The ‘claire-voie’ was used often in 17th Century French gardens, and would give an opening or view beyond a garden enclosure. This can be as simple as a closed gate, a window in a hedge or wall, or a living division such as tall grasses. Whatever method used the end result is that one can see only part of the picture, leaving more to be revealed.

Haseley Court, grasses, focal point

Grasses softening a vista: You can glimpse the green topiary ‘focal point’ of this part of Haseley Court’s garden over the grasses

A similar effect can also be achieved in your garden using bays (or beds across the garden), which often works well in long, thin gardens. By creating an open area, which narrows at one end, and then opens into the next area one can create rooms, and enhance the perspective. This is no new concept, having been successful for decades, which is why as a design style it is still so popular and so often used.

With a little more area it is possible to become very clever with vistas. A single focal point can be used more than once, from various points in a garden. Depending on the layout it can help to create the impression that an asymmetrical plot of land is in fact perfectly symmetrical. At Sissinghurst the statue of Dionysus can be seen along the central view from the tower, and also is the focal feature at the end of the Moat Walk, but this is only apparent when viewed on a plan.

The three top tips for creating a vista

My 3 top tips when designing a vista; 1st take time to decide from where it will be most enjoyed, 2nd the focal feature should have all year round interest, 3rd add a layer of intrigue.

MATT JACKSON is a landscape consultant in Kent who revamps and re-vitalises ‘tired’ gardens. He can offer a few hours of advice (which can be surprisingly effective in a middle-sized garden) or work on a complete -re-design. He was previously Head Gardener and in charge of gardens at Scotney Castle, Doddington Place and Sissinghurst. Check out his website at or call him on 07857 995151

This is the first ‘guest post’ for The Middle-Sized Garden, and I asked Matt Jackson to write it because he’s helped me so much in my garden – when we re-vamped it, we didn’t use a garden designer, but we had some great advice and guidance from Matt.


2 comments on "How to create a ‘vista’ in a middle-sized garden"

    1. Thank you – and looking forward to doing my next post for Garlic & Sapphire

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