While the adage, “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey,” usually refers to life, it’s also the perfect approach to designing a garden. Julie Moir Messervy, landscape designer and author of Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love (Taunton Press, 2009) believes paths not only “choreograph the journey,” they are essential to creating a sense of flow. “Without flow, a property is made up of a series of unrelated spaces,” Messervy says. With flow? A sense of space and harmony evolve.
Step right this way
While options are limitless, by default many builders install straight, cramped paths that hug the house. “This is good for the builder, not the visitor,” Messervy says. On the other hand, campus designers often find their artful paths ignored, and end up paving the shortcuts students carve out dashing to class via a more direct route. Since no one approach is right for every situation, Messervy suggest you experiment before you add new paths or change existing ones. Walk your property, trying different routes. What works for your yard and under what circumstances? When you find the best path, chances are you won’t be walking as close to the house as the builders presume you do.
Places to pause
Frost was wrong. The road less travelled doesn’t make all the difference. It’s the pauses along the way—at least with gardens. Whether you select a straight, curved or meandering path, create a pause at the beginning and at the end. If the route is long enough, create a resting spot in the middle or at several strategic points along the way. What makes visitors pause? Triggers can be subtle, like an arbour, a planted urn or a piece of statuary. Resting opportunities can also be overt, like a table and chair.
These efficient, no-nonsense stretches provide the shortest route from A to B. Sacrificing interest for efficiency, they’re easy to navigate, easy to shovel and easy to forget.
When to use them: Straight paths are the best choice for work routes. If you’re hauling wheelbarrows of yard waste to the compost bin or carrying dinner trays to your barbecue, keep the path straight—and not necessarily narrow.
Creating interest: This path is straight yet pulls the visitor in. The broken stones with the grass in the middle prompt you to look down to see where you’re stepping. As you do, colourful, low-lying plants create points of interest. Near the threshold, the path becomes solid, freeing you up to admire the hollyhocks before you climb the steps to the porch.
Inset photo courtesy of Allan Mandell.