One of the ways (there were many) I was initially stumped when I started turning two fields into a garden was how to make paths in it. It wasn’t too problematic at first as I just mowed paths through the existing grassland, but as soon as the design grew more complex mowing didn’t work so well. There was always that horrible join between path and grass, (I wrote a whole chapter about that in Outwitting Squirrels..) the difficulty of cutting sharp corners and the slipperiness of grassy slopes, especially in winter wet. Gravel was just about affordable in smallish doses.
We started exploring obtaining gravel and somehow discovered that gravel ‘to dust’ had clay in it, which washed nicely through the laid gravel and then set it all hard. No garden designer or landscaper could do the kind of slopes we have done this way, for fear of being sued if they didn’t set sufficiently hard and loose gravel sent you flying. There is a freedom in not having any professional help.
Though laying gravel paths was hard work. Fortunately we did have some help. But the cost of gravel and err..Jeff
may be why, in spite of reading so often about how paths ought to be very wide and generous, I now seem to find that our paths are rather narrow.
This has its merits. Sadly we simply cannot accommodate wheelchairs because of our steep slopes (not sure how I’ll get round the garden soon) so there is no point in having the kind of paths which posh flat gardens have for wheeled traffic, which potentially look like motorways. And often much cleaner, tidier and generally depressing than anything we can manage.
I have realised that our narrow paths mean that people cannot walk side by side much, distracting themselves from the garden glories with gossiping. In rather the same way that our plant filled steps work, they make people tread carefully and pay attention to where they are putting their feet.
Downside – that way they must hardly ever look up!
But there are seats, which must encourage a wider view.
It seems important, if possible, to give your paths a focal point – somewhere to head to which looks reasonably desirable or intriguing. A casual compost heap created by dumping grass cuttings is probably not it.
Nor, as our asking for garden criticism alerted us, is a ‘T’ junction: as above or below:
This path led down to such a stopper – so in response to the feedback, we made a path that takes you straight on, into the mysterious darkness of the shrubs beyond the sculpture. I have no idea whether anyone but me uses it.
Strange discovery, writing this: most of our paths lead to a ‘t’ junction. That’s bad!
I have another serious omission with regard to paths. I have made no way through any of the rather large borders which I always need access into at some point after the plants have reached chest height or taller. I’ve got used to treading my way through, squashing things and finding myself so surrounded by enormous plants that I can’t then see a way out. Shoving my way into the roses to get at the weeds is consequently rather painful too. Deadheading – ouch…
We are advised to make paths through our beds and I would recommend it. But it does rather restrict your plant possibilities and
paths get overgrown anyway.
So by this time of year it can be hard to get around the garden by the proper paths, never mind find your way into the borders. And that’s kind of fine, until it rains and we rush round trying to make routes through for visitors. I apologised to one visitor, who was picking her way gently and carefully through flowers as tall as she was, and she graciously said ‘not at all, you couldn’t possibly cut these down’.
I know this is one reason why people do the staking thing, strapping plants to posts and poles to get them to stand up straight. I have many reasons for not doing that, mostly because it’s work. But I have fallen in love with railings, which do the same kind of thing.
At least they do until the plants find their way through or over.
They’d manage to do something similar and uglier if I strapped them upright, wouldn’t they? I think they are just attempting to show who’s boss and totally overwhelm us:
in ignorance of the fact that winter is coming and they will be defeated in the end.
Winter can be such a relief, don’t you think???
its very useful for a new gardener
Good. What else might help?
Border design: specially do I have to follow the file of tall plants in the back, middle height in the middle, and low plants in the front to get the layered look? If not, how do I still make it look good?
I am not a professional designer, but this look reminds me of school pictures, with the short kids in the front, medium in the middle, tall in the back. I like to shake it up a bit and plant some of my favorite tall plants in the middle and front. (Example: I adore my Culver’s Root plants close to the front of the border.)
We do get told to break it up, but I think most of my flat beds have flattish planting. And it’s a look I’ve also associated with the New Perennial style. Must do more thinking about this.
Interesting. That made me think about my beds and borders and hope somehow that hasn’t been an issue. Now I have to work out why. Maybe not having a flat garden helps, but there must be more to it. I’ll come back to this, then.
When people are designing their gardens I always advise them to use the pathways to create the shape of the garden as that’s what we see through our long winters. However, what’s fun is how that shape changes through the seasons. Neat and tidy in the Spring, colourful in summer but overgrown and jungly in Fall. I like them in all phases but am also grateful when it’s time to instill some order once again.
Having just come in out of the rain from beating a patch of garden into winter submission, I truly appreciate your thoughts on the garden in winter. Winter is a relief!
Yep. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. (Unless we get snowed in…)
Rose and I have a tall-grass meadow that’s wide enough for the two of us to walk side by side until late in the season when the grasses often become top heavy with seed and flop over the mown path. It becomes like walking though a jungle. We’ve trimmed it in the past with a weed whacker, but, now you’ve made me realize: I’m making unnecessary work. Next year I’ll mow the path twice as wide. Why didn’t I think of this before? Thank you for firing up my feeble neurons.
I like to think then that you’ll think of me as you happily stroll side by side…..
As always, your garden is beautiful. I think your railings are quite smart. I may need to steal that idea, though being something of a klutz, I fear I might they might trip me up.
Ours are far too high to trip you up – have to be to support the plants.
Why is “T” junction bad?
I’ve struggled with the T junction myself. The dead end is so uninspiring. And it seems like the intersection should be a focal point, but what focal point won’t block the flow of traffic? Finally, I forced a small bed into the area, which turned the T into more of a Y. I think I like it better, but I’m not sure.
I can imagine that working well, if the bed is big enough to serve its purpose – I would guess it needs to be continually attractive, which is a challenge in a small space.
It’s an interesting question and one I will think more about. I think with the one which was identified as problematic by our critics, it was/is because it is at the end of a very prominent avenue. The expression ‘dead end’ I suppose sums up the way it may discourage someone from venturing down it. Maybe.
That’s exactly it! Thank you for your insight. Why bother to walk the path if it’s a dead end? I’m thinking now that I could actually move the path. A very exciting, but scary, idea.
Exciting and scary is definitely the way to go! (see what I did there….?!)
Just took an informal poll on the path width quandary over on IG – I’ve decided to go wider at an informalish 5 feet in the main part of the garden. Not because of the side by side thing, but because the paths stay in scale with the beds that surround (and rise above) them. It just feels right. Biggest thing I’ve learned: paths are personal. – MW
Scale is a real challenge and one impossible to give formulas for, I think. People looked huge in our garden when we were first making it and I thought I had a disaster on my hands. Fortunately people look right in it now. (But a couple of deer I came across looked far too big)
There is always a fight in my house about my sheer delight in late summer and fall, when the tall plants lean over the walkway to the house. My older daughter and son in law (who live here also) detest the “scratchy” gomphrena that touches them as they approach the front door. Our new mailman refuses to come to the front door anymore to deposit the mail in the box. He told my daughter he is afraid of getting stung by the bees on the [dis]obedient plant. He now simply walks up the driveway and deposits the mail on the front stoop behind a raccoon statue. I have decided I am going to buy a new mailbox for the right side so he can put the mail in there, and use the mailbox on the left side of the door for hand tools like pruners. Every spring, when everything looks so bare, I am in disbelief at how delightfully out of control things will be in a few months. It happens every year, so you would think I’d know by now.
I love your determination to stay with what you love!
“Winter can be such a relief, don’t you think???” Boy, ain’t that the truth. Just thought that today in my drought-stricken, yet overgrown garden that winter won’t hit for two more months yet.
Always good to have things to look forward to!
Great stuff, Anne, especially this. “ I have realised that our narrow paths mean that people cannot walk side by side much, distracting themselves from the garden glories with gossiping.” I’m rethinking my paths because of a big and ugly new building proposed in what used to be a nice winter view. And I know they are not going to get any wider. I also get stumped when I think about putting a path through a couple of big beds. Could be easier access but what to move and what plant to give up?
It’s clear to me that plants don’t like paths….
Great rant. Thank you I enjoy your take on many aspects of garden’s layout. Thanks for your honest and entertaining writing that is thought provoking.
I like a little wildness and prefer paths to have plants encroaching rather than a neat and tidy edge. At my house it is usually an overly enthusiastic nasturtium – they are my go-to for disguising gaps and rough areas in beds.
One of your articles from last year, featuring a path lined with arching crocosmia, is “how to do paths right.” Simply stunning – I planted some here last spring and eagerly await a similar display.
I love nasturtiums but for ages I haven’t been able to grow them, so I envy you your fillers and so approve of your edges. I hope your crocosmias arch gracefully for you.
Great post, I do agree with you that railings do a similar thing to strapping plants up, but are a lot less effort which is great!!
Yep, more to come this winter at Veddw….
Hi, do you know when there will be more posts related to this? Found it useful.
My next post is next Thursday – but what are you specially interested in?
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Nice garden paths, they look great.
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